SpaceX completes historic mission of launching humans into orbit

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US Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley became the first to fly in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule

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SpaceX has become the first private company to launch humans into orbit, after weather conditions over the Kennedy Space Center in Florida settled on Saturday afternoon to allow a second launch attempt to go ahead.

US Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley became the first to fly in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, attached to the bow section of the orbiting lab 422km above China.

The launch, at 3.22pm local time, also marked the first time astronauts had been launched into orbit from US soil since the Space Shuttle programme ended in 2011.

An earlier attempt on Wednesday was called off because of stormy conditions at launch time.

US President Donald Trump and vice-president Mike Pence made the trip to Florida to witness the launch.

The mission marks the beginning of a new era in which Nasa will be purchasing transport services from the commercial sector. No more will it own and operate the American vehicles that run to and from the station.

This will be done exclusively by firms such as SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, founded and owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk.

Confirmation of the Dragon’s attachment at the International Space Station I(SS) came at 14:16 GMT (15:16 BST) on Sunday, 19 hours after leaving the Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon rocket, also provided by SpaceX.

The docking was a fully automated process. Hurley and Behnken had no need to get involved, although they had practised some manual flying on approach.

The next phase of the company’s $2.6bn (£2.1bn, €2.3bn) contract, which will encompass six astronaut “taxi” flights, with the first of these likely to occur at the end of August.

 

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