SpaceX launches NASA astronauts to orbit in unprecedented public-private partnership

NASA astronauts launched to orbit from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years on Saturday with a craft designed and owned by a private company, the first time that has happened in history.

It is the first time NASA astronauts have been sent to the International Space Station from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

It was also an exciting time that the SpaceX launch of its Crew Dragon capsule was done in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Florida at 3:22 p.m. ET, carrying astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to space.

NASA said the mission launched from the same launch pad that was used for the first mission to the Moon and the final space shuttle flight.

“The Crew Dragon will now take about 19 hours to fly through space before docking to the station, allowing the crew onboard to do some system checkouts as part of this final test flight before SpaceX starts regular operational flights for NASA,” Axios reported.

“If all goes according to plan, the two astronauts should dock with the station by 10:29 a.m. ET on Sunday. It’s not yet clear how long the two veteran astronauts will spend onboard the station. NASA has said their mission could last up to a bit more than 100 days,” the publication added.

It said the launch also signals the beginning of the end of NASA’s reliance on Russian rockets and spacecraft to launch its astronauts to orbit.

“After the space shuttle program ended, NASA was forced to buy seats aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft in order to make sure their people continued to live and work aboard the ISS. Now, NASA hopes that instead of paying upwards of $80 million per seat, the space agency will be able to trade seats aboard SpaceX’s craft for seats on the Soyuz to maintain its partnership with Russia,” Axios added.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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