SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft launched from Launch Complex 39A.
Two veteran NASA astronauts were headed for the International Space Station on Saturday after Elon Musk's SpaceX became the first commercial company to launch a rocket carrying humans into orbit, ushering in a new era in space travel.
SpaceX's two-stage Falcon 9 rocket with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard blasted off flawlessly in a cloud of bright orange flames and smoke from Florida's Kennedy Space Center for a 19-hour voyage to the space station.
"Let's light this candle," Hurley, the mission commander, told SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California, before liftoff at 3:22 pm (1922 GMT) from NASA's storied Launch Pad 39A.
The SpaceX launch is the first of American astronauts from US soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 and the first crewed flight ever by a private company.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was a "great day" for NASA and SpaceX and an "important milestone for the nation."
"We're not celebrating yet," Bridenstine cautioned. "We will celebrate when they're home safely."
In a brief interview from space, Hurley said that in keeping with the tradition of having astronauts name their spacecraft, he and Behnken had named the Crew Dragon capsule "Endeavour" after the retired space shuttle on which they both flew.
Behnken said the SpaceX capsule is a "lot different than its namesake" in that "it has touch display screens."
The mission, dubbed "Demo-2," ends a government monopoly on space flight and is the final test flight before NASA certifies SpaceX's capsule for regular crewed missions.
SpaceX said Crew Dragon was on the correct trajectory to link up with the space station orbiting 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth.
The reusable first booster stage of the Falcon 9 rocket separated cleanly about 2.5 minutes after liftoff and landed upright on a floating barge off the Atlantic coast. The second stage also separated smoothly.
The launch had originally been scheduled for Wednesday but was delayed because of weather conditions, which also remained uncertain on Saturday right up until liftoff.
The mission comes amid the coronavirus crisis and protests in multiple US cities over the death of a black man in Minneapolis while he was being arrested by a white police officer.
President Donald Trump flew to Florida to watch the launch and delivered remarks to NASA and SpaceX employees on what he called a "special day."
Trump first addressed the protests, saying he understood "the pain people are feeling" but that he would not tolerate "mob violence."
Defining moment for SpaceX
The pair, veterans of two space shuttle missions each, were in quarantine for more than two weeks ahead of the flight and were regularly tested for COVID-19.
They went through the same preparations Saturday that they went through on Wednesday, donning their futuristic SpaceX-designed spacesuits four hours before launch.
After saying goodbye to their wives -- both former astronauts -- they were driven to the launch pad in an electric car built by Tesla, one of Musk's other companies.
The Crew Dragon mission is a defining moment for SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002 with the goal of producing a lower-cost alternative to human spaceflight.
The US space agency paid more than $3 billion for SpaceX to design, build, test and operate its reusable Dragon capsule for six future space round trips.
NASA has had to pay Russia for its Soyuz rockets to take US astronauts to space ever since the shuttle program ended.
The company's Crew Dragon capsule, the Endeavour, was set for liftoff atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 5:49 a.m. Eastern time (0949 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The cluster of 60 satellites separated successfully from a Falcon 9 rocket above the ocean between Australia and Antarctica an hour after its launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 9:19pm (0219 GMT Tuesday).
High winds and choppy seas in the area where the spacecraft was expected to splashdown on Saturday delayed the dramatic inflight test of the unmanned astronaut capsule to Sunday, with a longer six-hour launch window starting at 8am (EST).
A Falcon rocket raced into the pre-dawn darkness, carrying a Dragon capsule with 5,500 pounds (2,500 kilograms) of goods. This recycled Dragon — which is making its second space trip — is due to arrive at the orbiting lab on Monday.
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