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NASA and SpaceX succeed with historic launch

NASA and SpaceX have successfully launched astronauts from US soil for the first time in almost a decade.

Douglas Hurley and Robert Behken will now orbit the Earth for roughly 19 hours before docking with the International Space Station (ISS) at 3.29pm on Sunday.

The pair were accelerated to approximately 17,000mph (27,000kmph) – 22 times the speed of sound – and put on an intercept course with the ISS.

Bob Behnken (right) and Doug Hurley before boarding the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
Image: Bob Behnken (right) and Doug Hurley before boarding the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket

The launch, named Demo-2, was the first manned mission for Elon Musk‘s spaceflight company SpaceX – and the first private involvement in taking astronauts to the ISS.

SpaceX’s part in the mission will last until the astronauts are safely returned home at some point between the end of June and September.

If their Crew Dragon capsule performs as expected when they splash down in the Atlantic, then NASA will fully certify the company for manned launches.

It had initially been scheduled for Wednesday but that launch was postponed just minutes before lift-off due to lightning risks.

More from Nasa

Fortunately for space fans, Saturday’s launch went off without a hitch, with the weather growing clearer and clearer as the day grew on.

President Donald Trump flew down to Florida to observe the launch – the first president to watch a NASA lift-off since Bill Clinton.

(L-R) Karen Pence, US Vice President Mike Pence and US President Donald Trump watch the SpaceX launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020. - Trump traveled to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch the launch of the manned SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: Donald Trump is the first president to watch a launch since Bill Clinton

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket even landed successfully on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean just minutes after ferrying the astronauts into orbit.

America hasn’t had the ability to launch astronauts from its own soil since 8 July 2011, when the Space Shuttle programme was retired.

Bob Behken and Doug Hurley will now join the three current residents of the ISS, NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, all of whom were launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by Russia’s space agency.

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