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SpaceX Pulled It Off


Elon Musk’s aerospace company just launched two NASA astronauts into space for the first time.
For nearly a decade, if Americans wanted to leave the planet, they had to do so from a launchpad in Kazakhstan. Now they need only go as far as Florida.
Two astronauts launched into space this afternoon, departing from the sandy shores of Cape Canaveral, from the same launchpad where the space shuttles and Apollo missions once took off. The astronauts work for NASA, but for the first time in spaceflight history, they’re flying on a truly private spacecraft, designed from top to bottom by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace company.
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken made the journey wearing SpaceX suits, inside a SpaceX capsule, atop a SpaceX rocket, from a SpaceX-operated launchpad.
The astronauts are bound for the International Space Station, humankind’s only off-world residence, where one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are waiting for them. The successful launch makes SpaceX the first private company to put astronauts in orbit, a feat achieved by only three spacefaring nations: Russia, the United States, and China.
SpaceX tried to launch earlier this week, but that attempt was called off less than 20 minutes before the scheduled liftoff because of weather conditions, including lightning near the launchpad.
Today, as the clock ticked down toward launch and anticipation heightened, one could almost forget that this moment was unfolding in the midst of a pandemic—and as cities across the country experience intense civil unrest over the police killings of black Americans. But the sight of Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, wearing a mask as he spoke with Hurley and Behnken brought the surreal circumstances into stark relief. Hurley and Behnken were tested for COVID-19 at least twice before they launched, and have spent several weeks in quarantine. President Donald Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, flew to Cape Canaveral to witness the launch.
The send-off is also a reminder of how this mission is so different from any other in U. S. history. NASA has always relied on contractors to build the capsules and rockets that take people beyond the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. But the agency has given SpaceX an unprecedented amount of responsibility in this effort: SpaceX engineers are at the consoles, they gave the final word for launch, and they’ll be the ones communicating with the astronauts on their journey to the space station.
In this new chapter of American spaceflight, Mission Control isn’t in Houston. It’s on a street called Rocket Road in Hawthorne, California, at the headquarters of a company that Musk founded less than 20 years ago for this very purpose—to send people to space, on missions as far as Mars. This launch brings SpaceX closer to that vision, or at least closer to convincing the public that the company could someday pull off such a feat. SpaceX is working on a solo space effort, a spaceship designed to deliver dozens of people to Mars.

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