For the first time in American history, a pair of NASA astronauts were launched in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft on Saturday en route to the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley lifted off at 12:22 p.m. Saturday on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The launch was initially set to take off on Wednesday, but bad weather forced the launch to be scrapped and moved to Saturday.
Saturday also marked the first time since 2011 that astronauts have been launched from American soil. Since 2011, the United States has primarily relied on Russian rockets to carry astronauts to and from the space station.
Crowds of spectators were in awe watching the rocket lift off, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
According to a press release from NASA, SpaceX controlled the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Control Center Firing Room 4, the former space shuttle control room, which SpaceX has leased as its primary launch control center.
Saturday also marked a huge moment for the private sector in space exploration efforts. Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of sending humans to Mars, enjoyed the company’s biggest success in its 18 years.
Back in 2014, NASA awarded contracts up to a combined $6.8 million to both Boeing and SpaceX. In the coming years, SpaceX saw a lot of troubles, including seeing one of its Falcon 9 rockets blowing up last year during a test of its abort engines.
On Saturday, however, there were no issues during launch and the Crew Dragon space capsule, which successfully separated from its booster on time, is set to arrive at the International Space Station shortly after 10 a.m. today.
Thousands of people were also watching the launch from the comforts of their home, including hundreds of people across Santa Barbara County and many at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The Vandenberg Air Force Base shared a live stream of the 45th Space Wing congratulating the launch, as well as showcasing the lift off.
In the Facebook post, the Vandenberg Air Force Base said, “PheNOMINAL performance today at the 45th Space Wing! The Eastern Range and their partners NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration and SpaceX have made history by launching the first crewed flight in nearly a decade from American soil. Launch safety is key to the future of space exploration, and we are here for it!”
The post was met with hundreds of reactions as well as a few comments from the local community.
Vandenburg is also no stranger to lending a helping hand to SpaceX. In fact, SpaceX currently operates Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 4, which has two landing pads, both of which are used for Falcon 9 launch operations.
The first Falcon 9 launched from Vandenberg was back in 2013 after a 24-month process.
Just last year, Vandenberg was also involved in two projects with SpaceX launches.
The first was back in early January as part of Iridium’s last mission. On Jan. 11, 2019, SpaceX launched the final 10 Iridium Next satellites into orbit completing its deal with Iridium Communications, its largest non-government customer.
Just a few months later, SpaceX again launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg, this time sending a trio of Canadian synthetic aperture radar satellites on June 12. The satellites promised to bring higher resolution imagery with shorter revisit times.