Nasa and SpaceX herald in new era with first atronaut launch from US soil in nine years

30 May 2020, 20:54 | Updated: 30 May 2020, 21:50

By Matt Drake

Nasa and SpaceX have sent two astronauts into space, which is the first manned launch from US soil in nine years and heralds in a new era of space travel.

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are on board SpaceX's Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket.

The mission, named Demo-2, has meant that Elon Musk's SpaceX has become the first private company to send astronauts into space.

With Nasa and SpaceX making a second attempt to launch two astronauts from the US soil, Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted to say the pair were given the go-ahead to wear their spacesuits. He said: "We are GO for suit up! #LaunchAmerica Liftoff is slated for today at 3:22 pm (20:22BST)."

Nasa astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building
Nasa astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. Picture: PA
This marks the first time a private company has sent people into space
This marks the first time a private company has sent people into space. Picture: PA

The duo were due to lift off on Wednesday, but the mission was aborted less than 17 minutes before launch time over concerns that the event could trigger lightning.

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.

According to Nasa, the aim of the Demo-2 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.

Donald Trump and the Vice President and Second Lady take their places to watch the launch
Donald Trump and the Vice President and Second Lady take their places to watch the launch. Picture: PA

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket took off from the Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Mr Behnken and Mr Hurley will join the three other space station residents - Nasa's Chris Cassidy and Russia's Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner - to become members of the Expedition 63 crew.

Mr Vagner tweeted earlier to say he was waiting for the duo at the space station.

The mission is expected to last anything between one and four months, with a number of tests being performed on the Crew Dragon.

Major Peake said if the spacecraft launches, it may be visible in UK skies later.

He tweeted: "You can see the @Space_Station pass over the UK tonight, 22:10 BST. Look west, low on the horizon & it will cross to the south east, passing beneath the moon. If @SpaceX launches, it will follow about 5 mins later. The sky will be too light to see SpX on 1st pass after launch."

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