Sunday 31 May 2020 1:55 pm

SpaceX mission nears International Space Station after historic launch

SpaceX’s Dragon astronaut capsule is due to dock at the International Space Station this afternoon after yesterday’s historic launch.

At about 8:30 yesterday evening, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral launchpad in the US’ first manned space mission in nine years.

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The mission is also the first ever to be operated by a private company, with billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s SpaceX firm designing both the Falcon 9 rocket and attached crew capsule.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the manned Crew Dragon spacecraft attached takes off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre. (Getty Images)

Just prior to lift-off, Hurley repeated the words of the US’s first astronaut, Alan Shepherd, saying:  “SpaceX, we’re go for launch. Let’s light this candle”.

Musk, who watched the launch alongside president Donald Trump, simply tweeted: “Liftoff!”.

The Dragon capsule is due to dock at the ISS at 2:30 this afternoon, in what will be a fully automated operation.

The launch is a huge milestone for the commercialisation of space travel, with NASA looking to turn over routine space operations in low-orbit to private sector firms such as SpaceX.

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NASA no longer wants to own low-orbit vehicles, and is content to lease them from the private sector, where a number of firms, such as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, are looking to enter the market.

Donald Trump watched the SpaceX launch alongside vice president Mike Pence and his wife Karen. (AFP via Getty Images)

Doing so will free up resources to enable NASA to focus on its target of returning US astronauts to the moon by 2024. 

SpaceX has already reportedly saved the space agency millions through its innovative design.

One of the most significant developments is that of reusable rockets, which can land safely after being jettisoned from the craft.

Yesterday this worked out to perfection, with the booster systems detaching and flying safely back to a platform in the Atlantic. 

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(Getty Images)

The successful launch came after the initial attempt on Wednesday had to be called off at the last minute due to the weather.

Trump said: “It’s incredible, the power, the technology. That was a beautiful sight to see”.