A new era of American spaceflight began Saturday as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket broke through Earth’s upper atmosphere carrying veteran astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley atop a pillar of flame. This marks both the first time that a commercial aerospace company has transported astronauts off-world and the first time since the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 that astronauts have lifted off from US soil.
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from historic Launch Complex 39A, the same one used during the Apollo moon landing mission in 1969, at just after 3:22 pm ET on Saturday. Wet weather had been a factor leading up to today. NASA had estimated just a 60 percent chance to launch on Monday and got within 17 minutes of launch on Wednesday before waving off the attempt. However, the skies above Cape Canaveral have cleared sufficiently to allow for the Falcon 9’s “instantaneous” launch window, which is in place due to the relative alignment of the ISS to the planet.
Officially designated Demonstration-2, or Demo-2, this mission is the final test before NASA certifies the Dragon system for regular use in shuttling astronauts to and from the ISS.
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