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31.05.2020 US & Canada

SpaceX blasts astronauts into orbit, heralding new era of spaceflight

LISTEN MAY 31, 2020

Elon Musk's SpaceX made history Saturday, becoming the first private enterprise to launch humans into orbit – after its powerful Falcon 9 rocket successfully sent two Nasa astronauts on a voyage to the International Space Station.  

Thousands of spectators gathered at Florida's Brewer Bridge to watch Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley blast off on time from Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Centre on Saturday afternoon.

Their capsule, the newly designed Crew Dragon, is scheduled to dock at the ISS at 14:29 GMT on Sunday – after a 19-hour journey – with Nasa Television providing rolling live coverage of the entire trip.

The launch ends a nine-year gap in human spaceflight from American soil. US astronauts have been using Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to travel to the ISS since Nasa's final space shuttle flight – piloted by Hurley – in 2011. 

On Wednesday the Falcon 9's first launch attempt was scrubbed with fewer than 17 minutes remaining on the countdown clock amid electrical storms and a tornado warning.

SpaceX and Nasa, who have been in a public-private partnership since 2010, will learn much from this trip – with the astronauts expected to take the spacecraft for a test drive before it arrives at the ISS to see how it responds to manual commands.

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