Thu | Jul 16, 2020

US astronauts board SpaceX rocket for historic launch

Published:Wednesday | May 27, 2020 | 3:07 PM
NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley (left) and Robert Behnken wave as they walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Pad 39-A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) — With thunderstorms threatening a delay, two NASA astronauts climbed aboard a SpaceX rocket ship Wednesday for liftoff on a history-making flight that was seen as a giant leap forward for the booming business of commercial space travel.

Space veterans Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were scheduled to ride into orbit aboard the brand-new Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, taking off for the International Space Station at 4:33 p.m. EDT from the same launch pad used during the Apollo moon missions a half-century ago.

Smiling, waving and giving the traditional thumbs-up, the two men said farewell to their families — exchanging blown kisses and pantomiming hugs for their young sons from a coronavirus-safe distance — before setting out for the pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV, another product from SpaceX’s visionary founder, Elon Musk.

Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrived to watch the liftoff.

The flight would mark the first time a private company sent humans into orbit.

It would also be the first time in nearly a decade that the United States launched astronauts into orbit from US soil.

Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take US astronauts to and from the space station.

With 2 1/2 hours to go before liftoff, controllers put the chances of launch at just 40 percent because of thunderstorms at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Thunder could be heard as the astronauts made their way to the pad, and a tornado warning was issued moments after they climbed into their capsule.

In the event of a postponement, the next launch opportunity would be Saturday.

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