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.
TWO NASA ASTRONAUTS have reached orbit on board a SpaceX rocket, in a first for a private company in the history of spaceflight.
The launch also represents the first launch of astronauts from US soil since 2011, with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on the ground to witness it.
Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will now head for a rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS). Their Crew Dragon capsule is expected to reach ISS in about 19 hours
The two 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.
Instead the mission, named Demo-2, saw the launch take place today at 3.22pm in Florida (8.22pm Irish time).
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.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket took off from the Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Behnken is the mission’s joint operations commander and take responsibility for the rendezvous, docking and undocking of the Dragon capsule, while Hurley was in charge of the launch, landing and recovery of the vehicle in his role as the Crew Dragon spacecraft commander.
Around 10 minutes after lift-off, the rocket successfully separated into a first stage and a second stage.
The first stage then return to a SpaceX landing ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, while the second part of the rocket continues the journey with the Crew Dragon.
The craft is expected to rendezvous and dock with the space station tomorrow at 3.30pm Irish time.
Behnken and 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.
The mission is expected to last anything between one and four months, with a number of tests being performed on the Crew Dragon.
Falcon 9 booster has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship! pic.twitter.com/96Nd3vsrT2— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 30, 2020
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