SpaceX made history by successfully launching two NASA astronauts into Earth's orbit on Saturday (May 30). It marks the first time that a commercial aerospace company has put humans into space. It is also the first time since 2011 that the United States has sent Americans to space without the help of the Russian government.
In 2011, NASA discontinued the space shuttle program, choosing to rely on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Instead of building a replacement for the space shuttle, NASA tasked the private sector with developing a new spacecraft.
SpaceX had planned to launch the spacecraft on Wednesday but had to scrub the launch just minutes before lift-off due to inclement weather. On Saturday, there were concerns that bad weather could delay the launch again, but the storms cleared the area, giving the shuttle a clear window to take off.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft took off at 3:22 p.m. ET from the "Pad 39A," which is the same pad that Apollo 11 lifted off from in 1969 on its historic mission to land men on the moon. The crew module was blasted into orbit by the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Once the rocket reaches the upper atmosphere, the module will separate and launch its own thrusters. The module is mostly autonomous, so the astronauts will have very little to worry about during the 19-hour flight to hook up with the International Space Station.
The spacecraft is crewed by two veteran NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken, 49, and Douglas Hurley, 53. They are expected to spend between one and three months onboard the ISS. NASA hopes to keep them in space until another Crew Dragon module is ready to ferry more astronauts into space.
When Behnken and Hurley return home, they will board the same crew module, which will guide them through the Earth's atmosphere and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.