Two American Astronauts Lift Off from American Soil for First Time in Nine Years

Two American Astronauts Lift Off from American Soil for First Time in Nine Years

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 3:22 pm ET today, the first astronauts to head to orbit from American soil since the final space shuttle mission in 2011.  This test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is expected to open a new era in human spaceflight where private sector companies own the transportation systems and take not only government astronauts to orbit, but anyone who can afford a ticket.

The launch of Demo-2, the crewed test flight of SpaceX’s commercial crew space transportation system, took place on time after weather once again threatened a scrub, as happened on Wednesday, but ultimately cleared in time.

The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket worked perfectly, delivering Hurley and Behnken in their Crew Dragon capsule to orbit while the reusable first stage returned to land on SpaceX’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You off the Florida coast.

SpaceX Demo-2 Crew Dragon with Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on their way to orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon rocket, May 30, 2020. Screengrab.
First stage of Demo-2 Falcon 9 rocket after landing on drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, May 30, 2020. Screengrab.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in the Demo-2 Crew Dragon spacecraft moments after reaching orbit. Screengrab.

SpaceX flew an uncrewed test flight of this system, Demo-1, in March 2019 and routinely sends a cargo version of the spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).  But this is the first time it has carried people and the first time astronauts have launched from American soil since STS-135 in July 2011, the final flight of the U.S. space shuttle.  NASA has been buying crew space transportation services from Russia in the meantime.

Getting to orbit is just the first step.  Crew Dragon will autonomously dock with the ISS tomorrow at 10:29 am ET.  Hurley and Behnken will join NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner who already are aboard.

NASA has not decided how long the Demo-2 crew will remain on ISS, but it hopes at least one month and perhaps as many as four.  The duration depends on a number of factors including the need to get the crew and spacecraft back to Earth for inspection so it can get a final certification for operational missions.  NASA and SpaceX are targeting August 30 for the first operational mission, “Crew-1,” which will take three NASA astronauts and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to the ISS.

This test flight is not over till it’s over — when the Demo-2 crew splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean at the end of their journey.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.