By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 20, 2020) -- NASA and SpaceX launched NASA astronauts Air Force Col. Robert L. Behnken and retired Marine Corps Col. Douglas G. Hurley into space at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as part of NASA's Demo-2 mission.
The two lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at 3:22 p.m. today aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, which sat atop a Falcon 9 rocket. It was the first time the Falcon 9 carried humans into orbit. During the mission, the spacecraft reached speeds as high as 17,000 mph.
Following the launch, President Donald J. Trump spoke from the Kennedy Space Center about what the launch means for Americans.
"As we gather in this special place to celebrate not only the launch of a new spacecraft but also our nation's bold and triumphant return to the stars, it's a special day," Trump said. "Moments ago the world bore witness to the flight of the first, new manned U.S. spacecraft in nearly 40 years, since the Space Shuttle launched in 1981 -- a long time ago. I am thrilled to announce that the SpaceX Dragon capsule has successfully reached low Earth orbit and that our astronauts are safe and sound."
The president said the successful launch marks a new age of American ambition in space.
"We once again proudly launch American astronauts on American rockets -- the best in the world -- from right here on American soil," he said. "Those of us who saw the spectacular and unforgettable liftoff this afternoon watched more than an act of history. We watched an act of heroism. Every time our astronauts climb aboard a rocket ... and vault across the sky, they display breathtaking valor. What Col. Douglas Hurley and Col. Robert Behnken did this afternoon was pure American genius and courage."
Trump also said Hurley and Behnken will be remembered for that valor, genius and courage in American history books, and the nation is grateful for their service.
"Now, these brave and selfless astronauts will continue their mission to advance the cause of human knowledge as they proceed to the International Space Station before returning to Earth," he said. "We wish them Godspeed on their journey, and as one proud nation, we salute their fearless service."
Once in orbit, the crew conducted tests to ensure the spacecraft was performing the way it should. It will take about 19 hours for the craft to meet up with the International Space Station.
After docking with the space station, Behnken and Hurley will perform tests aboard the Crew Dragon and the space station as part of its Expedition 63 crew.
The launch marks the first time a private company has launched a crew into orbit. The Crew Dragon is a commercially-produced spacecraft; this mission will help NASA certify the craft for further missions to the space station.
Before his service with NASA, Behnken served as a flight test engineer with the Air Force. Hurley served as a fighter pilot and test pilot in the Marine Corps.