Dragon capsule achieves orbit, heads towards International Space Station

The United States opened a new chapter in its grand adventure in space Saturday, when a SpaceX rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center, carrying two astronauts to orbit from United States soil for the first time in nearly a decade.

It was a historic moment for SpaceX, which became the first private corporation to launch people into orbit, and for NASA, which has struggled to regain its footing after retiring the Space Shuttle in 2011, leaving the U.S. no option but to rely on Russia to ferry its astronauts to space for as much as $90 million a seat.

The flight was the the fulfillment of a risky bet by NASA under the Obama administration to entrust the private sector to fly astronauts.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 3:22 p.m. from pad 39A, the historic site from which the crew of Apollo 11 left for the moon, after a seamless countdown where the primary concern was inclement weather that on Wednesday had forced a postponement of the first launch attempt.

The Crew Dragon capsule, which separated from the booster on time 12 minutes into the flight, is expected to dock with the International Space Station shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday.

Boeing, the aerospace behemoth that had been by NASA’s side since the dawn of the Space Age, was considered the favorite to fly first. But it stumbled when the test flight of its Starliner spacecraft encountered trouble almost immediately upon reaching orbit. Boeing and NASA officials scrambled to fix software problems that prevented the spacecraft from reaching the space station and instead ending the mission early.

SpaceX also ran into a series of problems. In 2015, one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded on a cargo resupply flight to the station. The next one, another rocket blew up, this time on the launch pad before an engine test. Then, last year, its Crew Dragon spacecraft blew up during a test of its abort engines.

But it has since investigated and remedied those failures to NASA’s satisfaction, and in the days leading up to the launch, the space agency praised the company many in the agency once looked upon skeptically.

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