SpaceX reaches new heights

SpaceX becomes first private company to launch humans into orbit

Two astronauts begin historic space flight in Crew Dragon capsule The SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on Saturday

Nasa’s astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley became the first to fly in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, carried on top of one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets towards a planned rendezvous with the International Space Station.

The launch was also the first from US soil since the Space Shuttle programme ended in 2011.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, compared the moment to the 1960s, when the US notched up a series of breakthroughs in space exploration during a period of domestic social upheaval. The SpaceX launch was a “morale boost” for the country after the unrest of recent days, he told CNN.

The astronauts will spend up to 119 days before attempting a return to earth for a splashdown landing at sea. If the test is successful, Nasa plans to send paying passengers on the SpaceX craft for the first time on August 30.

The use of private spacecraft is expected to bring down the cost of manned space flight as commercial incentives replace the traditional cost-plus development programmes Nasa had relied on in the past. Some experts predict the cost of launching an astronaut into orbit could fall to less than $10m over the next decade. Space tourism is also expected to become far more common if prices fall as much as some predict. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both hope to begin their own flights for space tourists soon.

Trump has pushed Nasa to return to the moon before the end of 2024, potentially within a second Trump presidential term, though few space experts believe the timetable is realistic.

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