In a rare bit of good news coming out in 2020, SpaceX launched NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aboard a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft.

They are heading to the International Space Station (ISS). The last time astronauts launched from from American soil occurred in 2011.

Hurley and Behnken blasted off from Kennedy Space Center’s historic launch pad 39A, which was also used for the Apollo and space shuttle programs, at 3:22 p.m. ET Saturday. An attempt on Wednesday was scrubbed due to weather conditions.

The launch is the first time a private company, rather than a national government, has sent astronauts into orbit.

…Launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Hurley and Behnken are traveling to the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon spacecraft built by the space company.

After a short journey into orbit, Crew Dragon began its 19-hour journey to the orbiting space lab. Autonomous docking with the International Space Station is expected at 10:29 a.m. EDT on Sunday. The duration of the astronauts’ stay on the orbiting space lab is yet to be determined.

Millions watched across the country, happy to be following news that didn’t involve pathogens or riots.

“Maybe there’s an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said before launch.

With the on-time liftoff by the 260-foot rocket, SpaceX, founded by Musk, the Tesla electric-car visionary, became the first private company to launch people into orbit, a feat achieved previously by only three governments: the U.S., Russia and China.

The flight also ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA, the longest such hiatus in its history. 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.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence watched from Cape Canaveral, and are thrilled with the results of the public-private partnership in enhancing the US space program.

“I’m so proud of the people, of NASA, public and private,” Trump said. “When you see a sight like that, it’s incredible. When you hear that sound — the roar — you can imagine how dangerous it is.”

Musk launched SpaceX in 2002 to provide cheaper space travel and to realize his long-held dream of someday sending humans to Mars and living there.

“This is the most hands-off NASA has ever been and it’s been difficult for them to step back,” Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told The Post. “But a lot is riding on the privatization of the space program.”

Musk’s success means that NASA won’t have to concern itself with mundane low-orbit space travel and can focus on “gearing up for another trip to the moon and beyond,” McDowell said.

A fun fact: Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are long-time friends.

There are a lot of similarities between Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. Both joined NASA’s astronaut program in 2000, they are both married to fellow NASA astronauts and they are fathers. They even share the same taste in music.

Here is everything you need to know about Hurley and Behnken, the astronauts NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has called “truly the best of us.”

Hurley, 53, was a U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot prior to being selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2000.

He piloted two spaceflight missions in July 2009 and July 2011, and has logged a total of 683 hours in space.

Hurley is a native of Apalachin, New York. When he’s not flying to space, he enjoys hunting and spending time with his family in the Texas Hill Country, according to his official NASA biography.

Hurley is married to fellow NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg. They have one son.

Social media comments included references that reflected the wild ride 2020 has already been:

Congratulations to everyone involved in the launch. Here’s hoping they astronauts return safely!

This truly as been one big step for public-private partnerships, one giant leap for the US space program.


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