Dragon docks at International Space Station 19 hours after NASA-SpaceX launch

In this image taken from NASA TV video, the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken aboard, docks with the International Space Station Sunday, May 31, 2020.

"I think it was an argument that the return is more risky in some ways than the ascent, so in order to declare victory yet, we need to bring them home safely [and] make sure that we're doing everything we can to minimize that risk of reentry and return", Musk said.

"It just might not be the same thing you'd want to use if you were suited up and trying to fly an entry or descent, for example, like we could do with the space shuttle", says Behnken.

The mission comes amid the coronavirus crisis and protests in multiple United States cities over the death of a black man in Minneapolis while he was being arrested by a white police officer. NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would would be a morale-booster.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, said he was "so proud" after Saturday's launch. NASA was also renovating Launch Complex 39B for eventual use by the Space Launch System.

Ever since it retired the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take US astronauts to and from the space station.

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The mission marks the first time that a privately built and owned spacecraft carried two astronauts to the ISS in its almost 20-year-history.

On Saturday, Trump declared that " t$3 oday's launch makes clear the commercial space industry is the future". It was the second launch attempt for this mission, after weather caused a delay last Wednesday. Hurley blew kisses to his 10-year-old son and wife.

When it returns to Earth, the Crew Dragon can't simply land on a runway like the space shuttle.

SpaceX controllers at Hawthorne, California, cheered and applauded wildly. Bridenstine pronounced it "just an wonderful day". "It's been nine years since we've launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and now we have done it again". We have done it.

President Donald Trump flew to Florida to watch the launch and delivered remarks to NASA and SpaceX employees on what he called a "special day".

"What is great about NASA is, we bring people together", said Bridenstine, who was a Republican congressman representing an Oklahoma district before he was chosen to head NASA. "When you see a sight like that it's incredible", Trump said after liftoff.

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Inside Kennedy Space Center, attendance was strictly limited because of the coronavirus, and the small crowd of a few thousand was a shadow of what it would have been without the threat of COVID-19. They were joined by more than 3 million viewers online, according to NASA's count, and more spectators who lined beaches and roads nearby to witness the launch.

Trump said "we will stand with the family of George Floyd, with the peaceful protesters and with every law-abiding citizen who wants decency, civility, safety and security". "The last administration presided over the closing of the space shuttle". Instead of the usual multitude of dials, knobs and switches, the Dragon capsule has three large touchscreens.

The space station's current crew welcomed them aboard with hugs and handshakes on schedule at 1:25 p.m. EDT, after executing a critical spacecraft docking milestone and kicking off the crew's potentially months-long stay in the orbital laboratory. "I am thrilled to announce that the SpaceX Dragon capsule has successfully reached low Earth orbit and that our astronauts are safe and sound".

The space agency has had to rely on Russian Soyuz rockets ever since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011 - with 2015 the original target for a replacement program.

The idea was to save money for taxpayers by having NASA buy delivery services rather than own and operate its own cargo ships. This would also provide a financial incentive for the private sector to develop new spacecraft that could be used both by NASA and by other paying customers.

Demo-2 is SpaceX's final test flight to validate its crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon, Falcon 9, launch pad and operations capabilities.

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A SpaceX capsule exploded on the test stand previous year.

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