Liftoff! The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launched from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Pad 39A at 3:22 p.m. EDT, kicking off a critical final flight test of the SpaceX crew transportation system. The commercial crew era has officially begun with this launch of American astronauts on an American spacecraft from American soil.
Control of the flight has been transferred from the SpaceX launch control team at Kennedy to the mission control team at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
The nine Merlin engines on the Falcon rocket’s first stage are generating more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust as the vehicle climbs away from Florida’s Space Coast. At about one minute into the flight, the rocket will pass through Max Q, the point of peak mechanical stress on the rocket.
SECO! The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s second-stage Merlin engine shut down as planned. Separation of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from the second stage is coming up just over three minutes from now.
The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage is descending toward SpaceX’s drone ship, “Of Course I Still Love You,” waiting in the Atlantic Ocean.
Twelve minutes into the flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the spacecraft separated from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, signaling the end of the climb to space. NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission, a final end-to-end flight test of the company’s crew transportation system, is underway with the return of human spaceflight capability to U.S. soil.
The Crew Dragon, Behnken and Hurley are embarking on a 19-hour pursuit of the International Space Station.
“Thanks for flying on Falcon 9 today – we hope you enjoy the mission,” said SpaceX Chief Engineer Bala Ramamurthy.
“It was incredible. Appreciate all the hard work. Thanks for the great ride to space,” the crew responded.
The Crew Dragon’s nosecone is opening. This rounded cover at the top of the spacecraft protects the docking system and the guidance, navigation and control system. The spacecraft’s environmental control and life support system is running as well.