CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — NASA and SpaceX made history Saturday as they successfully launched astronauts toward the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Demo-2, with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on board, had a nine-minute ride into orbit ahead of a 19-hour trip to the ISS.
It's a slow and precise journey with Behnken and Hurley's spacecraft expected to dock at the space station around 8:30 am MT Sunday.
No astronauts have made this journey after launching from United States soil in nearly a decade. Ever since it retired the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.
"It is absolutely our honor to be part of this huge effort to get the United States back in the launch business," Hurley said minutes before launch. "Thanks for the great ride to space."
Hurley, a 53-year-old retired Marine, and Behnken, 49, an Air Force colonel, are veterans of two space shuttle flights each. Hurley piloted the shuttle on the last launch of astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center, on July 8, 2011.
Their mission 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 hoped the flight would be a morale-booster for the nation.
Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, said he was "so proud" after the successful launch.
"For the first time in nine years, we have now launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. I'm so proud of the NASA and SpaceX team for making this moment possible," Bridenstine said.
He added, "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."