CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.—Lightning delayed the launch by a few days, but when the 260-foot rocket powered its way into the sky on May 30, a long drought for America ended.
Dubbed the Demo-2 Mission, on board were long-time astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, heading for the International Space Station (ISS). This was the first time in almost 9 years that an American spacecraft carrying American astronauts lifted off from American soil!
The safe landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis way back in July 21, 2011 marked the end of the shuttle program, and Hurley was the pilot! Up until May’s launch, NASA has relied on Russian spacecraft to get its astronauts to the ISS.
Outfitted in SPIFFY spacesuits, Hurley and Behnken rode in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship propelled by the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, which is partly reusable to save costs. NASA partnered with SpaceX, owned by transportation visionary Elon Musk, to develop this next generation of cargo and crew spacecraft. Gone are the dozens of toggle switches, indicator lights and gauges, replaced by large touchscreen control panels. And if that isn’t cool enough, the spaceship usually flies itself to dock with the ISS!
Both astronauts are former military test pilots, and they did get the chance to fly their spaceship manually for part of their 19-hour trip, reaching an orbit 250 miles above the Earth.
“We did end up with one stowaway on board our vehicle when we launched today,” Behnken pointed out during a press conference from the ISS. “We do have an Apatosaurus aboard!” The sparkly blue-and-pink long-necked stuffed dinosaur named Tremor was picked by the astronauts’ young kids to make the historic spaceflight.