CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Two NASA astronauts are on their way to space as part of a history-making ride into orbit aboard a rocket ship designed and built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
Their destination: the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth.
This marks NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade.
The mission has unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 100,000 Americans, and 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 lift American spirits.
“Maybe there’s an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
Veteran astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are making the historic trip.
At one point, weather threatened Saturday’s launch just as it did Wednesday when the countdown of the rocket and its bullet-shaped Dragon capsule was halted at just under 17 minutes because of the threat of lightning.
President Donald Trump attended Saturday’s launch.
NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to taxi astronauts to and from the space station, under contracts totaling $7 billion. Both companies launched their crew capsules last year with test dummies. SpaceX’s Dragon aced all of its objectives, while Boeing’s Starliner capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and was almost destroyed because of software errors.
As a result, the first Starliner flight carrying astronauts isn’t expected until next year.