A rocket ship built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company thundered away from Earth with two Americans on Saturday, ushering in a new era of commercial space travel.
It also put NASA back in the business of launching astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011.
NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode skyward aboard a sleek, white-and-black, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket.
They lifted off from the same launch pad used to send the Apollo astronauts to the moon a half-century ago.
The flight was delayed for three days because of stormy weather in Florida.
“Let’s light this candle,” Hurley said, borrowing the words used by Alan Shepard on America’s first human spaceflight in 1961.
The two men are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on Sunday for a stay of up to four months, after which they will return to Earth in a Right Stuff-style splashdown at sea.
The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 100,000 Americans.
It also came amidst racial unrest across the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.
NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would would be a morale-booster.
With the on-time 3:22 p.m. liftoff, SpaceX, founded by Musk, the Tesla electric-car visionary, became the first private company to launch people toward/into orbit.
The feat was only previously achieved by only three governments: the U.S., Russia and China.
The flight also ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA, the longest such hiatus in its history.
Ever since it retired the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.
*Reported by AP