SpaceX rocket lifts off on historic private crewed flight

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 31 2020 08:12 AM

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken launches NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US. May 30, 2020. Thom Baur, Reuters

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying two veteran NASA astronauts lifted off on Saturday on an historic first private crewed flight into space.

The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard blasted off smoothly in a cloud of orange flames and smoke from Launch Pad 39A at Florida's Kennedy Space Center for the 19-hour voyage to the International Space Station.

The first booster stage of the rocket separated cleanly and landed upright on a barge off the Atlantic coast.

The second stage also separated smoothly, sending the astronauts in the Crew Dragon capsule on their way to the space station orbiting some 250 miles (450 kilometers) above the Earth.

The first crewed flight from US soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 had originally been scheduled for Wednesday but was delayed because of weather conditions, which also remained uncertain on Saturday right up until liftoff at 3:22 pm (1922 GMT).

President Donald Trump flew to Florida aboard Air Force One to watch the launch and described it as "really something special."

"Real talent, real genius, nobody does it like us," Trump said.

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