Nasa launches US astronauts into space on SpaceX rocket
Nasa has launched two astronauts into space from US soil for the first time in nine years.
Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Crew Dragon capsule after separating from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket shortly after lift-off.
It will take them 19 hours to reach the space station, where they will join the three other residents – Nasa’s Chris Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
The mission, named Demo-2, has made Elon Musk’s SpaceX the first private company to send humans into space, ushering in a new era of commercial space travel.
The pair were due to travel on Wednesday but the mission was aborted less than 17 minutes before launch over concerns that the event could trigger lightning.
According to Nasa, the aim of the mission is to show SpaceX’s ability to ferry astronauts to the space station and back safely.
It is the final major step required by SpaceX’s astronaut carrier, the Crew Dragon, to get certified by Nasa’s Commercial Crew Programme for more long-term manned missions to space.
The Crew Dragon is expected to rendezvous and dock with the space station on Sunday at 3.30pm UK time.
Since ending its Space Shuttle programme in 2011, Nasa has depended on Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to transport its astronauts to the space station.
In 2014, Nasa awarded SpaceX and Boeing contracts to provide crewed launch services to the space station as part of its Commercial Crew Programme.