Two American astronauts boarded the International Space Station from a SpaceX capsule, marking the first time humans have traveled to orbit on a commercially developed craft, forging a new era for NASA and visionary billionaire Elon Musk.

The Dragon craft carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the orbiting lab at 10:16 a.m. Eastern time Sunday, about 19 hours after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. They entered the station at 1:22 p.m. after completing a series of arrival checklists.

“We have to congratulate the men and women of SpaceX,” Hurley said after the docking. “Their incredible efforts over the last several years to make this possible cannot go overstated.”

The milestone flight is the first time American astronauts have flown from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. The achievement comes 18 years after Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp. with the ultimate goal of populating other planets. Hurley called it “an incredible time to be at NASA,” with three manned-vehicle programs in the works and progress toward a return to the moon.

“Welcome to Bob and Doug,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the astronauts from Mission Control in Houston shortly after the two men entered the station. “The whole world saw this mission and we are so, so proud of everything you have done for our country and to inspire the world,” he said.

The highest-profile U.S. rocket launch in decades captured interest around the globe, watched live on Saturday by approximately 10 million people. The flight comes at a time when people are clamoring for good news amid the Covid-19 pandemic, surging unemployment and growing U.S. protests against police violence.

“This is just one effort that we can show for the ages in this dark time that we’ve had over the past several months to kind of inspire, especially the young people in the United States, to reach for these lofty goals and work hard and look at what you can accomplish,” Hurley said from the space station.

‘So Proud’

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were among those who gathered with Musk to watch the spectacle. Trump spoke with the two astronauts prior to the launch and, in a brief exchange with reporters, referred to Musk as one of the “great brains,” according to a pool report.

The rooftop shook as the rocket rumbled to orbit, according to the report. Within seconds, Elton John’s “Rocket Man” -- a Trump rally classic -- began to play over speakers, the report said.

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