Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

A rocket ship built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company thundered away from Earth with two Americans on Saturday, ushering in a new era of commercial space travel and putting NASA back in the business of launching astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade.

NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode skyward aboard a sleek, white-and-black, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off at 3:22 p.m. from the same launch pad used to send the Apollo astronauts to the moon a half-century ago. Minutes later, they safely entered orbit.

“Let’s light this candle,” Hurley said just before ignition, borrowing the words used by Alan Shepard on America’s first human spaceflight, in 1961.

Story continues below advertisement

The two men are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on Sunday for a stay of up to four months, after which they will return to Earth in a splashdown at sea.

The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 100,000 Americans, and racial unrest across the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would would be a morale-booster.

“Maybe there’s an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said before launch.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, right, and Doug Hurley say goodbye to family members on their way to the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020, in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With the on-time liftoff, SpaceX, founded by Musk, the Tesla electric-car visionary, became the first private company to launch people into orbit, a feat achieved previously by only three governments: the U.S., Russia and China.

The flight also ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA, the longest such hiatus in its history. Ever since it retired the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.

In the intervening years, NASA outsourced the job of designing and building its next generation of spaceships to SpaceX and Boeing, awarding them US$7-billion in contracts in a public-private partnership aimed at driving down costs and spurring innovation. Boeing’s spaceship, the Starliner capsule, is not expected to fly astronauts until early 2021.

Musk said earlier in the week that the project is aimed at “reigniting the dream of space and getting people fired up about the future.”

Story continues below advertisement

Ultimately, NASA hopes to rely in part on its commercial partners as it works to send astronauts back to the moon in the next few years, and on to Mars in the 2030s.

Before setting out for the launch pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV – another Musk product – Behnken pantomimed a hug of his 6-year-old son, Theo, and said: “Are you going to listen to Mommy and make her life easy?” Hurley blew kisses to his 10-year-old son and wife.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken lifts off during NASA's SpaceX mission to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on May 30, 2020.

THOM BAUR/Reuters

A launch attempt on Wednesday was called off with less than 17 minutes to go in the countdown because of lightning. On Saturday, stormy weather in Florida threatened another postponement for most of the day, but then the skies began to clear in the afternoon, just in time.

Nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first stage booster landed, as designed, on a barge a few hundred miles off the Florida coast.

Inside Kennedy Space Center, attendance was strictly limited because of the coronavirus, and the small crowd of a few thousand was a shadow of what it would have been without the threat of COVID-19. President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence flew in for the event for the second time in four days.

By NASA’s count, more than three million viewers tuned in online.

Story continues below advertisement

Despite NASA’s insistence that the public stay safe by staying home, spectators gathered along beaches and roads hours in advance.

Among them was Neil Wight, a machinist from Buffalo, N.Y., who staked out a view of the launch pad from a park in Titusville.

“It’s pretty historically significant in my book, and a lot of other people’s books. With everything that’s going on in this country right now, it’s important that we do things extraordinary in life,” Wight said. “We’ve been bombarded with doom and gloom for the last six, eight weeks, whatever it is, and this is awesome. It brings a lot of people together.”

The astronauts were kept in quasi-quarantine for more than two months before liftoff. The SpaceX technicians who helped them get into their spacesuits wore masks and gloves that made them look like black-clad ninjas. And at the launch centre, the SpaceX controllers were seated far apart.

Hurley, a 53-year-old retired Marine, and Behnken, 49, an Air Force colonel, are veterans of two space shuttle flights each. Hurley piloted the space shuttle on the last launch of astronauts from Kennedy, on July 8, 2011.

In keeping with Musk’s penchant for futuristic flash, the astronauts wore angular white uniforms with black trim. Instead of the usual multitude of dials, knobs and switches, the Dragon capsule has three large touchscreens.

Story continues below advertisement

SpaceX has been launching cargo capsules to the space station since 2012. In preparation for Wednesday’s flight, SpaceX sent up a Dragon capsule with only a test dummy aboard last year, and it docked smoothly at the orbiting outpost on autopilot, then returned to Earth in a splashdown.

During the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs, NASA relied on aerospace contractors to build spacecraft according to the agency’s designs. NASA owned and operated the ships.

Under the new, 21st-century partnership, aerospace companies design, build, own and operate the spaceships, and NASA is essentially a paying customer on a list that could eventually include non-government researchers, artists and tourists. (Tom Cruise has already expressed interest.)

“What Elon Musk has done for the American space program is he has brought vision and inspiration that we hadn’t had” since the shuttle’s retirement in 2011, Bridenstine said on the eve of launch. He called the SpaceX chief “brilliant” and said Musk has “absolutely delivered” for NASA.

The mission is technically considered by SpaceX and NASA to be a test flight. The next SpaceX voyage to the space station, set for the end of August, will have a full, four-person crew: three Americans and one Japanese.

Wednesday’s first human flight was originally targeted for around 2015. But NASA’s commercial crew program encountered bureaucratic delays and technical setbacks.

Story continues below advertisement

A SpaceX capsule exploded on the test stand last year. Boeing’s first Starliner capsule ended up in the wrong orbit during an crew-less test flight in December and was nearly destroyed at the mission’s end. Both companies had trouble with such things as the landing parachutes.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies