The SpaceX launch is the first of American astronauts from US soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 and the first crewed flight ever by a private company.
“I’m really quite overcome with emotion,” Elon Musk said. “It’s been 18 years working towards this goal.
“This is hopefully the first step on a journey towards civilization on Mars,” the SpaceX founder said.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was a ‘great day’ for NASA and SpaceX and an important milestone for the nation.
“We’re not celebrating yet. We will celebrate when they’re home safely”, Bridenstine cautioned.
In a brief interview from space, Hurley said that in keeping with the tradition of having astronauts name their spacecraft, he and Behnken had named the Crew Dragon capsule “Endeavour” after the retired space shuttle on which they both flew.
Behnken said the SpaceX capsule is a “lot different than its namesake” in that “it has touch display screens.”
The mission, dubbed “Demo-2,” ends a government monopoly on space flight and is the final test flight before NASA certifies SpaceX’s capsule for regular crewed missions.
Behnken and Hurley former military test pilots who joined NASA in 2000, are scheduled to dock with the space station at 10:29 am on Sunday.
They will join US astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner aboard the ISS.
SpaceX said Crew Dragon was on the correct trajectory to link up with the space station orbiting 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth.
The reusable first booster stage of the Falcon 9 rocket separated cleanly about 2.5 minutes after liftoff and landed upright on a floating barge off the Atlantic coast. The second stage also separated smoothly.
The launch had originally been scheduled for Wednesday but was delayed because of weather conditions, which also remained uncertain on Saturday right up until liftoff.