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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.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
58 mins ago - Economy & Business

The winners and losers of the pandemic holiday season

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The pandemic has upended Thanksgiving and the shopping season that the holiday kicks off, creating a new crop of economic winners and losers.

The big picture: Just as it has exacerbated inequality in every other facet of American life, the coronavirus pandemic is deepening inequities in the business world, with the biggest and most powerful companies rapidly outpacing the smaller players.

Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

The daily rate of new coronavirus infections rose by about 10 percent in the final week before Thanksgiving, continuing a dismal trend that may get even worse in the weeks to come.

Why it matters: Travel and large holiday celebrations are most dangerous in places where the virus is spreading widely — and right now, that includes the entire U.S.