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SpaceX launches Crew Dragon rocket successfully

Weather was the biggest question at Cape Canaveral, as NASA and SpaceX counted down to the first manned launch from American soil in nine years.

We have achieved lift off. The SpaceX Crew Dragon launched from Cape Canaveral at 3:22 p.m. Saturday. The rocket is the first manned spacecraft to leave American soil in nine years and the first ever launched by a private company.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are both on their second trip into space. They reached orbit about nine minutes after liftoff and expect to reach the International Space Station 10:27 a.m. Sunday.

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Falcon 9, the first-stage booster that launched the spacecraft Crew Dragon, landed as expected on a droneship in the Atlantic, called Of Course I Still Love You, shortly before the Crew Dragon reached orbit. One of SpaceX’s priorities has been recovering boosters after launches to reuse and learn from. This was the third launch of Falcon 9.

The crew at mission control and Behnken and Hurley exchanged thanks for their work on the program and shared appreciation for the moment, having launched American astronauts into space on an American rocket from American soil.

The weather was the biggest question mark as the crew prepared for Saturday’s launch.

The crew was ahead of schedule with its preparations awaiting the 3:22 p.m. scheduled liftoff. At T-minus 60 minutes, Hurley reported they were “go for launch.”

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They left the crew quarters for a drive to the launch pad under sunny skies, but the weather (likely thunderstorms were forecast) deteriorated. At 1:45 p.m., NASA TV broadcast an exchange between mission control and the crew that the weather was “no go” at that moment, but they expected an opening at launch time.

With 48 minutes to go, an update came: The launch was “go on weather,” which held until launch.

From there, the countdown continued with Behnken and Hurley arming the escape system with 42 minutes on the clock, one of the last big milestones during countdown. From there everything proceeded as expected to launch.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at Follow @dianacnearhos.