A ‘future of American dominance in space…’
(Liberty Headlines) Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent a space ship away from Earth with two Americans on Saturday, ushering in a new era in commercial space travel and putting the United States of America back in the business of launching astronauts into orbit from home soil for the first time in nearly a decade.
NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode skyward aboard a white-and-black, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off at 3:22 p.m. from the same launch pad used to send Apollo crews to the moon a half-century ago. Minutes later, they slipped safely into orbit.
“Let’s light this candle,” Hurley said just before ignition, borrowing the historic words used by Alan Shepard on America’s first human spaceflight, in 1961.
The two men are scheduled to arrive Sunday at the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth, for a stay of up to four months, after which they will come home with a Right Stuff-style splashdown at sea, something the world hasn’t witnessed since the 1970s.
“We are back in the game. It’s very satisfying,” said Doug Marshburn, of Deltona, Florida, who shouted, “USA! USA!” as he watched the 260-foot rocket climb skyward.
SpaceX becomes the first private company to launch people into orbit, a feat achieved previously by only three governments: the U.S., Russia and China.
“This is something that should really get people right in the heart of anyone who has any spirit of exploration,” Musk, the visionary also behind the Tesla electric car company, said after liftoff, pounding his chest with his fist.
The flight also ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA. Ever since it retired the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.
Over the past few years, NASA outsourced the job of designing and building its next generation of spaceships to SpaceX and Boeing, awarding them $7 billion in contracts in a public-private partnership aimed at driving down costs and spurring innovation.
Boeing’s spaceship, the Starliner capsule, will fly astronauts in 2021.
NASA plans to rely in part on commercial partners as it pursues it next goals: sending astronauts back to the moon within a few years, and on to Mars in the 2030s.
At a post-liftoff rally held at NASA’s massive 525-foot-high Vehicle Assembly Building, President Donald Trump commended Musk and proclaimed: “Today we once again proudly launch American astronauts on American rockets, the best in the world, from right here on American soil.”
He vowed the U.S. will be the first to land on Mars, promising a “future of American dominance in space.”
Vice President Mike Pence, who also witnessed the launch, said that as the nation deals with the coronavirus and racial strife, “I believe with all my heart that millions of Americans today will find the same inspiration and unity of purpose that we found in those days in the 1960s” during Apollo.
The first attempt to launch the rocket, on Wednesday, was called off with less than 17 minutes to go in the countdown because of lightning. On Saturday, stormy weather threatened another postponement for most of the day, but the skies began to clear just in the time.
The astronauts set out for the launch pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV after Behnken pantomimed a hug of his 6-year-old son, Theo, and said: “Are you going to listen to Mommy and make her life easy?” Hurley blew kisses to his 10-year-old son and wife.
Nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first-stage booster landed, as designed, on a barge a few hundred miles off the Florida coast, to be reused on another flight.
“Thanks for the great ride to space,” Hurley told SpaceX ground control. The two crewmates batted around a floating blue dinosaur plush toy doubling as a dragon, demonstrating that they had reached zero gravity.
SpaceX controllers at Hawthorne, California, cheered and applauded wildly, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine declared: “This is everything that America has to offer in its purest form.”
Attendance inside Kennedy Space Center amounted to only a few thousand. By NASA’s count, over 3 million viewers tuned in online.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.