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.

Bill Clinton slams McConnell and Trump: "Their first value is power"

Former President Bill Clinton on Sunday called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) vow to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg's vacant Supreme Court seat before the next presidential inauguration "superficially hypocritical."

The big picture: Clinton, who nominated Ginsburg to the court in 1993, declined to say whether he thinks Democrats should respond by adding more justices if they take back the Senate and the White House in November. Instead, he called on Republicans to "remember the example Abraham Lincoln set" by not confirming a justice in an election year.

Pelosi: Trump wants to "crush" ACA with Ginsburg replacement

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that President Trump is rushing to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg because he "wants to crush the Affordable Care Act."

Why it matters: Pelosi wants to steer the conversation around the potential Ginsburg replacement to health care, which polls show is a top issue for voters, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration has urged the courts to strike down the law, and with it, protections for millions with pre-existing conditions.