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The launch seen from Mission Control. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

For the first time in history, a private company has launched people to orbit from U.S. soil.

Why it matters: This SpaceX launch of its Crew Dragon capsule — in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — marks the first time NASA astronauts have been sent to the International Space Station from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

"Our country has been through a lot, but this is a unique moment where all of America can take a moment and look at our country do something stunning again."
— NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine ahead of launch

What's happening: The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Florida at 3:22 p.m. ET, carrying astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to space. The mission launched from the same launch pad that was used for the first mission to the Moon and the final space shuttle flight.

  • The Crew Dragon will now take about 19 hours to fly through space before docking to the station, allowing the crew onboard to do some system checkouts as part of this final test flight before SpaceX starts regular operational flights for NASA.
  • If all goes according to plan, the two astronauts should dock with the station by 10:29 a.m. ET on Sunday.
  • It's not yet clear how long the two veteran astronauts will spend onboard the station. NASA has said their mission could last up to a bit more than 100 days.

Between the lines: The launch also signals the beginning of the end of NASA's reliance on Russian rockets and spacecraft to launch its astronauts to orbit.

  • After the space shuttle program ended, NASA was forced to buy seats aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft in order to make sure their people continued to live and work aboard the ISS.
  • Now, NASA hopes that instead of paying upwards of $80 million per seat, the space agency will be able to trade seats aboard SpaceX's craft for seats on the Soyuz to maintain its partnership with Russia.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Sep 1, 2020 - Science

Rocket scientist Tory Bruno's vision of the future

Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: NASA

United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno believes humanity's push to explore the solar system could one day reduce poverty on Earth.

Why it matters: ULA is the workhorse of the space industry, with a high rate of success for the rockets it flies and big government and commercial contracts. It is well-positioned to one day act as the ride for companies and nations hoping to push farther into deep space.

DHS directing $77 million to combat domestic violent extremism in states, cities

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

For the first time, states and localities will spend at least $77 million of Department of Homeland Security grant money on combatting domestic violent extremism, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced on Thursday.

Why it matters: Domestic terrorism has been on the rise in the U.S., spurred on by growing polarization and the mainstreaming of online conspiracy theories. In the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Mayorkas has made fighting the problem a "National Priority Area."

Senate confirms former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as energy secretary

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate voted 64-35 on Thursday to confirm former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as secretary of the Department of Energy.

Why it matters: Granholm, only the second woman to head the department, will play a key role in President Biden’s efforts to accelerate the U.S. shift to clean energy and help other countries do the same.