SpaceX, founded and led by 1997 College and Wharton graduate Elon Musk, successfully launched two astronauts from a Florida launchpad Saturday afternoon.
The Falcon 9 rocket took flight on Saturday at 3:22 p.m. The Crew Dragon capsule containing astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley is expected to reach the International Space Station at approximately 10:30 a.m. EDT Sunday morning after about 19 hours in space, CNN reported.
The mission represents the first time a private company has launched astronauts into orbit, The New York Times reported. It was the first launch of NASA astronauts in the United States since 2011, when NASA retired its space shuttle program. Since then, NASA has paid Russia to take U.S. astronauts to the ISS.
The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but was postponed just 17 minutes before the scheduled liftoff due to weather conditions at the launch site, according to the Times. President and 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence attended the Saturday launch.
"It is absolutely our honor to be part of this huge effort to put the United States back in the launch business," the astronauts told mission control on a CNN livestream of the launch.
Although SpaceX has conducted previous rocket launches, this is the first to contain astronauts, the Times reported. Musk plans to send an unmanned shuttle to Mars by 2022, and a manned shuttle to Mars by 2024, CNBC reported.
SpaceX hopes to use Crew Dragon again to bring four astronauts to the ISS later in the year after a successful launch on Saturday.
The launch drew crowds of approximately 150,000 people in Florida, the Times reported. Although NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine requested visitors follow social distancing guidelines while on the Kennedy Space Center's grounds, Florida Today reported few viewers were distancing or wearing masks at the site.
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