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The historic SpaceX launch of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley

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 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley 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.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

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Despite repeated warnings by NASA to stay home because of the coronavirus, fans lined the beaches to watch a historic moment, but the space agency drastically limited attendance at the Kennedy Space Center.

Saturday’s launch was also the second attempt to begin the mission. It was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but that was scrapped because of bad weather in the area.

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John McDonnell/The Washington Post

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

Both Benhken and Hurley are former military pilots who achieved the rank of colonel — Hurley in the Marine Corps, Behnken in the Air Force. Both were accepted to the NASA astronaut class of 2000 on their first try. Both have been to space twice before. Both are fathers to a young boy.

Behnken is married to Megan McArthur, a NASA astronaut and oceanographer; Hurley is married to Karen Nyberg, who recently retired from the NASA astronaut corps.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

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Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

The two astronauts were lifted to the space station by a booster and spacecraft operated by SpaceX, founded by tech billionaire Elon Musk. The mission heralds a monumental moment in human space exploration: the first launch by a private company of people into orbit. It marks the end of the era where only government-owned spacecraft achieved such heights and represents another major step in the privatization of space.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

“We cannot be complacent about technology development,” Musk told The Washington Post in a preflight interview. “We have to really drive innovation hard and say, ‘Okay, let us go as fast and as hard as possible to get humanity back to the moon and there to stay and have a base on the moon, maybe [a] city on the moon, to have a base on Mars, a city on Mars to … make life multi-planetary.’"

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

Both President Trump and Vice President Pence, the chair of the National Space Council, were in attendance to mark a new era of space flight. Trump, who has made human spaceflight a priority of his first term turned the Air Force’s Space Command into the Space Force, its own branch of the military, and has pushed NASA to conduct a lunar landing mission by 2024 as a steppingstone to a mission to Mars. Pence has said the U.S. will return to the moon “by any means necessary.”

After the launch, President Trump addressed the crowd at Kennedy Space Center, saying “You can’t be number one on earth if you are number two in space.”

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

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Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

The first booster of the Falcon 9 rocket successfully landing on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean was a positive sign as the rocket’s second-stage booster and Crew Dragon capsule continue their launch trajectory into orbit and toward the International Space Station.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

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The Crew Dragon capsule is expected to dock with the International Space Station at approximately 10:30 a.m. Sunday. There are three people on board the station — two Russian cosmonauts and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy — and the spacecraft has to avoid a collision.

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The spacecraft is designed to perform the docking on its own — but if anything were to go wrong, the astronauts could take control. Leading up to the launch, Behnken said they would be ready to take control, using the spacecraft’s touchscreen technology.

“The docking task, to come close to the space station and fly in proximity and then slowly come into contact, is maybe a little bit different than what you should see flying a Space Shuttle or flying an aircraft,” Behnken said.

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Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post

John McDonnell/The Washington Post

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post