NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley participate in a test of critical crew flight hardware at a SpaceX processing facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on March 30, 2020, ahead of the Crew Dragon launch scheduled for May 27, 2020.
Saturday's launch by SpaceX, the private rocket company of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, represented another milestone for the reusable rockets it pioneered to make spaceflight less costly and more frequent.
But this is not the first time NASA astronauts will wear an Omega X-33 on a mission. Once in atmosphere, it'll release its parachutes to slow the fall back to Earth, and coast to a landing in the Atlantic Ocean, where SpaceX crews will recover the capsule and provide the astronauts their ride back to dry land. Inside the craft, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will lift off en route to the International Space Station.
It will take Falcon 9 nine minutes to reach orbit and then Crew Dragon will have a 19-hour journey to the International Space Station once it separates from the rocket.
During the day, thunder could be heard as the astronauts made their way to the pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, and a tornado warning was issued moments after they climbed into their capsule. "We'll do it again, I think, on Saturday".
"We're launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil".
The preparations took place in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed an estimated 100,000 Americans.
"It's great to get the United States back in the crewed launch business, and we're just really glad to be on board this magnificent complex", Hurley said.
The flight would put Musk and SpaceX in the same league as only three spacefaring countries - Russia, the USA and China, all of which have sent astronauts into orbit. The launch, titled "Demo-2", is for the final demonstration mission in the human rating process of SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Falcon 9, meaning that once this mission is complete, the launch vehicle will finally be certified for operational use for regular transportation of people to space.
The space agency also estimated 1.7 million people were watching the launch preparations online. She told Texas standard host David Brown on Monday that the public-private partnership between NASA and SpaceX is likely going to become the norm for space exploration. Boeing's capsule, Starliner, is not expected to fly astronauts into space until early 2021.
"We're doing it differently than we've ever done it before", Bridenstine said.