SpaceX's astronaut-riding Dragon arrives at space station

WION Web Team Cape Canaveral, United States of America May 31, 2020, 08.35 PM(IST)

SpaceX's Dragon arrives Photograph:( AFP )

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SpaceX, the private rocket company of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, launched two Americans into orbit from Florida on Saturday in a landmark mission marking the first spaceflight of NASA astronauts from US soil in nine years.

SpaceX delivered two astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Sunday, following up a historic liftoff with a smooth docking.

SpaceX, the private rocket company of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, launched two Americans into orbit from Florida on Saturday in a landmark mission marking the first spaceflight of NASA astronauts from US soil in nine years.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT), launching Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on a 19-hour ride aboard the company's newly designed Crew Dragon capsule bound for the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Hurley and Bob Behnken are a part of the extended stay at the International Space Station on the SpaceX Demo-2 mission.

With the test pilots poised to take over manual control if necessary, the SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked automatically, no assistance needed.

The docking occurred just 19 hours after the rocket blasted off.

A few hours before docking, the Dragon riders reported that the capsule was performing fine.

Minutes after launch, the first-stage booster rocket of the Falcon 9 separated from the upper second-stage rocket and flew itself back to Earth to descend safely onto a landing platform floating in the Atlantic.

High above the Earth, the Crew Dragon jettisoned moments later from the second-stage rocket, sending the capsule on its way to the space station.

The exhilarating spectacle of the rocket soaring flawlessly into the heavens came as a welcome triumph for a nation gripped by racially-charged civil unrest as well as ongoing fear and economic upheaval from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Falcon 9 took off from the same launch pad used by NASA's final space shuttle flight, piloted by Hurley, in 2011. Since then, NASA astronauts have had to hitch rides into orbit aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

NASA officials had held off on any celebrations until after Sunday morning's docking and possibly not until the two astronauts are back on Earth sometime this summer.

NASA has yet to decide how long Hurley and Behnken will spend at the space station, somewhere between one and four months.

The last time NASA launched astronauts into space aboard a brand new vehicle was 40 years ago at the start of the space shuttle programme.

(with inputs from Reuters)