U.S. astronauts returned to space on a U.S. rocket on Saturday for the first time since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011. NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the new Crew Dragon capsule to orbit from Cape Canaveral. Bad weather threatened a second scrub of the launch but the clouds parted just in time for the 3:22 EDT precision launch window. The launch appeared to be right by the numbers and after 12 minutes the capsule separated from the second stage of the rocket and settled into orbit. The first stage was successfully recovered on a barge anchored in the Atlantic.
As the countdown wound down Hurley invoked the famous quote from Alan Shepherd as he was about to become the first American in space. “Let’s light this candle,” Hurley said before the Falcon 9’s blasted the rocket from Pad 39A, the same massive platform that was used for the Apollo 11 launch. The capsule autonomously docked with the International Space Station at 10:16 a.m. Central Time and Hurley and Behnken transferred to the ISS two hours later. They will stay on the ISS for four months before using the capsule to return to earth with a reentry and parachute splashdown.