SpaceX successfully launched two US astronauts into orbit aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft using a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the centre’s Launch Complex 39A, carrying a Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board. It is the first time ever that humans have been aboard a SpaceX vehicle as it launched.
The launch, titled ‘Demo-2’, is the final demonstration mission in the human rating process of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Falcon 9, meaning that once this mission is complete, the launch vehicle will finally be certified for operational use for regular transportation of people to space. SpaceX is now the first private company to launch astronauts for NASA.
SpaceX and Boeing were both selected for NASA’s commercial crew program to wean the agency off its dependence on Russia’s Soyuz to fly astronauts after the shuttle programme was retired.
The first operational Crew Dragon mission, called Crew-1, could launch to the ISS as early as August 30, with three NASA astronauts and one astronaut from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency on board. SpaceX has also signed agreements to begin offering berths to paying passengers for Crew Dragon space tourist trips as early as next year.
In a post-launch press conference at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Elon Musk said: “I’m really quite overcome with emotion on this day, so it’s kind of hard to talk, frankly. It’s been 18 years working towards this goal, so it’s hard to believe that it’s happened.”