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Watch: NASA astronauts launch from US for the first time in 9 years

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken, wearing SpaceX spacesuits, are seen as they depart the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building for Launch Complex 39A during a dress rehearsal prior to the Demo-2 mission launch, Saturday, May 23, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
May 30, 2020

NASA and SpaceX are conducting the first launch of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil in nine years on Saturday.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley is mounted to a Falcon 9 rocket. The flight, dubbed “Demo-2,” is the second time SpaceX has launched the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS), but only the first time it has carried astronauts.

Watch the launch live below:

The launch is taking place from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39 in Merritt Island, Fla. SpaceX maintains a 20-year lease on the site’s 39A subcomplex, and launch most of their cargo missions from that location.

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The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but cloudy conditions forced a postponement — just 16 minutes before takeoff.

Behnken and Hurley were among the 17 graduates of NASA’s 2000 class of astronauts, and have remained close friends since going through the program together. Both Behnken and Hurley are military test pilots. Behnken is a U.S Air Force colonel and Hurley is a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel. Both flew two space shuttle missions each before NASA selected them to fly for SpaceX.

It’s not yet clear how long the Crew Dragon and the astronauts will remain at the ISS, but the duration will be determined once the crew arrives.

The Crew Dragon is currently capable of remaining in orbit for 110 days, though it is well below the NASA requirement of 210 days for operational capability. The mission will be a major step in the spacecraft securing NASA’s operational certification.

Behnken and Hurley will be conducting tests on Crew Dragon as well as other research with the ISS crew, which will contribute to NASA’s ongoing research and technology investigations.

NASA revealed the launch in an announcement last month, which also featured the new “NASA Launch America” website, that boasts NASA’s partnership with SpaceX in entering “a new era of human spaceflight.”

“As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit,” the website says of the upcoming flight.