America returned astronauts to orbit from US soil for the first time since 2011, as Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley blasted off in the first manned flight of Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
With Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the vice president, watching from a platform at Cape Canaveral in Florida, the rocket lifted off at 3:22pm local time.
Ten million people watched the launch live, streamed on social media and broadcast on television networks around the world.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Jim Bridenstine, Nasa administrator, whose team was whooping and cheering in the control room as vital technical milestones passed without a glitch.
“It’s been nine years since we launched American astronauts, from American soil. And now it’s done.”
Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49 – friends for 20 years, both former fighter pilots, both married to fellow astronauts – flew in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, carried on top of one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets.
The pair, who are both making their third trip to space, will now fly for 19 hours towards a planned rendezvous with the International Space Station.