05/30/2020 15:24 EDT | Updated 05/30/2020 16:03 EDT

SpaceX Launches 2 NASA Astronauts Into Orbit In Historic Mission

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, aboard the Crew Dragon, are the first Americans to blast off into space from U.S. soil in nearly a decade.

A SpaceX rocket made history by launching two NASA astronauts into orbit.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft blasted off Saturday afternoon atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a flight to the International Space Station.

The mission marks the first time that Americans have launched into space from U.S. soil in almost a decade; the last U.S. space shuttle took off from the Kennedy Space Center in 2011. 

The launch is also the first time a private company ― in this case, billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX ― has put people in space. 

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, veteran astronauts and best friends, are aboard. Once the pair gets to the space station, they’re expected to stay there for at least a month. They’ll be joining NASA astronaut Christopher J. Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

Joe Raedle via Getty Images
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (right) and Doug Hurley, best friends, in a vehicle prior to the SpaceX launch on Saturday.

Instead of building its own spacecraft to replace its retired space shuttles, NASA has turned to private companies in a money-saving move that The New York Times calls the “rental-car equivalent of spacecraft.” The space agency then pays for its astronauts to ride aboard.

Aerospace company Boeing is also working on a spacecraft that would be used in the same way.