Historic SpaceX launch sends NASA astronauts into space

AFP|
​Elon Musk's SpaceX makes history
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​Elon Musk's SpaceX makes history

Two veteran NASA astronauts were headed for the International Space Station after Elon Musk's SpaceX became the first commercial company to launch a rocket carrying humans into orbit, ushering in a new era in space travel.

AP
​Two astronauts
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​Two astronauts

SpaceX's two-stage Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard blasted off flawlessly in a cloud of bright orange flames and smoke from Florida's Kennedy Space Center for a 19-hour voyage to the space station.

Image credit: Twitter/SpaceX/

Agencies
​Why is it so special?
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​Why is it so special?

The SpaceX launch is the first of American astronauts from US soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 and the first crewed flight ever by a private company.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was a "great day" for NASA and SpaceX and an "important milestone for the nation."

In pic: Elon Musk celebrates after the launch.

Reuters
​Capsule
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​Capsule

Hurley said that in keeping with the tradition of having astronauts name their spacecraft, he and Behnken had named the Crew Dragon capsule "Endeavour" after the retired space shuttle on which they both flew.

Behnken said the SpaceX capsule is a "lot different than its namesake" in that "it has touch display screens."

The mission, dubbed "Demo-2," ends a government monopoly on space flight and is the final test flight before NASA certifies SpaceX's capsule for regular crewed missions.

In pic: In this still image taken from NASA TV, NASA astronaut Bob Behnken (L) releases a toy dragon floating in zero gravity as they reach orbit on May 30, 2020, after launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

AFP
​The mission
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​The mission

They will join US astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner aboard the ISS.

SpaceX said Crew Dragon was on the correct trajectory to link up with the space station orbiting 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth.

The reusable first booster stage of the Falcon 9 rocket separated cleanly about 2.5 minutes after liftoff and landed upright on a floating barge off the Atlantic coast. The second stage also separated smoothly.

Behnken and Hurley blasted off from Launch Pad 39A, the same one used by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11's 1969 journey to the Moon.

Image credit: Twitter/SpaceX/

Agencies
​Cost
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​Cost

The US space agency paid more than $3 billion for SpaceX to design, build, test and operate its reusable Dragon capsule for six future space round trips.

NASA has had to pay Russia for its Soyuz rockets to take US astronauts to space ever since the shuttle program ended.

Image credit: Twitter/SpaceX/

Agencies

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