LIFTOFF! SpaceX Falcon 9 departs the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center

A SpaceX rocket blasted off this afternoon from Kennedy Space Center, carrying a Dragon capsule with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. It's the first time astronauts have launched from the United States in nine years and a first for a private company.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are in SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft. It lifted off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 3:22 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 30, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

NASA's live coverage of the launch is on NASA TV.
Other things to know about Saturday's launch

  • Hurley, 53, a retired Marine, and Behnken, 49, an Air Force colonel, will spend one to four months aboard the orbiting lab, currently down to a three-man, half-size crew. They'll lend a hand with experiments and possibly spacewalks, before ending their mission with an Atlantic splashdown, a scene not seen for a half-century.

  • It's just the fifth time NASA astronauts have strapped into a spanking new U.S. space system for liftoff - following Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and shuttle. NASA owned and operated all those spacecraft, built by contractors to NASA's precise specifications. The commercial crew program, by contrast, calls for private businesses to handle and own it all, with input and oversight by NASA.

  • The cosmic-size shift to private companies allows NASA to zero in on deep space travel. The space agency is busting to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 under orders from the White House, a deadline looking increasingly unlikely even as three newly chosen commercial teams rush to develop lunar landers. Mars also beckons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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