The most amazing photos of SpaceX's historic 1st astronaut launch for NASA

The successful launch of two astronauts on a SpaceX Crew Dragon did not only make history May 30. It also gave us truly spectacular views of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket as it launched a crew for the first time. 

Here are some of the most iconic shots of the historic launch and mission, which was the first human space mission from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

In photos: SpaceX's historic Demo-2 test flight with astronauts

A distant storm

Lightning illuminates the night sky behind the water tower at Launch Complex 39A on May 29, 2020, as SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon stand ready for a second launch attempt, scheduling for the following day.

(Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA)

The weather, as is often the case in Florida, was a concern in the hours before the SpaceX launch. NASA has firmly established protocols about when it is safe (or not safe) to launch, depending on the weather. Here you can see distant storms in the night sky behind the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket the night before launch, on May 29.

Bad weather had already plagued the mission once. Storms delayed a launch attempt days earlier, on My May 27.

A goodbye, with care

(Image credit: Joe Raedle/Getty)

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (R) and Doug Hurley said a careful goodbye to their families after walking out of NASA's operations and checkout building on their way to the launch pad. Behnken is married to NASA astronaut Megan McArthur and has a young son. Hurley is married to retired astronaut Karen Nyberg and also has a son. 

The two astronauts were launching during the novel coronavirus pandemic, necessitating a few extra physical distancing precautions on top of the usual quarantine to keep astronauts safe from viruses.

Tiny people, mighty rocket

(Image credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA)

Demo-2 astronauts Behnken and Hurley are just barely visible in their white spacesuits at left, inside the fixed service structure servicing their SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (at right).

The astronauts are shown here on their final walk-up to the rocket in the hours before the launch on May 30. The Falcon 9 rocket stood atop Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center. It's a historic launch pad that also saw NASA's Apollo 11 moon landing mission launch, as well as many space shuttle flights. 

A stormy liftoff

(Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA)

Backdropped by dramatic but non-threatening storm clouds, astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken successfully blast off May 30 en route to the International Space Station. 

Their launch continued flawlessly, marking the first time the SpaceX Crew Dragon has carried astronauts into space, and the third time SpaceX spacesuits have been used in space (after two missions with dummies.)

The power of Merlin

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida

(Image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The nine Merlin engines of the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage spit flame as they launch the Crew Dragon carrying astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on a Crew Dragon spacecraft for NASA. 

The rocket would later make a smooth landing on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You. It's black landing legs can be seen folded against its booster hull. 

Dignitary viewing

(Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA)

In a rare visit from senior politicians, President Donald Trump (right), Vice-President Mike Pence (center) and Second Lady Karen Pence watched the Demo-2 mission make its successful launch May 30. Trump became only the third sitting U.S. president to watch astronauts launch into space from the Kennedy Space Center. 

He follows President Richard Nixon's viewing of Apollo 12 in 1969, and President Bill Clinton's viewing of STS-95 on space shuttle Discovery in 1998. That mission carried John Glenn, one of NASA's first astroanuts, back into space at age 77.

The Trump administration is hoping to get NASA astronauts back on the moon by 2024.

Rocket touchdown

(Image credit: SpaceX)

The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley finished the last part of its mission successfully, by touching down on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You just minutes after launch May 30. 

SpaceX touts rocket reusability as a long-term approach to make space exploration cheaper and more sustainable, since launching costs usually gobble a large share of a mission's budget.

Thumbs-up in Crew Dragon

(Image credit: SpaceX/Twitter)

With glowing touchscreens within arm's reach at left, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken give thumbs-up while sitting inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft. 

The astronauts experienced a flawless launch during the first human mission of the SpaceX spacecraft May 30.

Flying over Turkey

(Image credit: NASA)

In a spectacular example of the new being backdropped by the old, the Crew Dragon spacecraft (named Endeavour) approaches the International Space Station on May 31 while being backdropped by coastal Turkey, including the city of Demre and an overall region important to the ancient Roman empire for shipping and trade. 

The spacecraft docking took place above the border of China and Mongolia.

A close approach

(Image credit: NASA)

As the SpaceX Crew Dragon (far right) makes its approach to the International Space Station, at foreground is some of the vital infrastructure used to keep the orbiting complex running. Visible is the Japanese robotic arm attached to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Kibo laboratory module. 

The astronauts docked at the Harmony module that connects laboratory modules from the United States, Japan and Europe.

Opening up

(Image credit: NASA)

The nose of the Crew Dragon spacecraft opens up in preparation for docking May 31, showing the mechanism that would connect it directly to the international docking adapter at the International Space Station's Harmony module. 

Inside, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken monitored the progress of the docking procedure.

Celebrating with SpaceX

(Image credit: NASA TV/Youtube)

A screenshot shows the crew hosting an in-flight event with SpaceX employees (on the ground) on June 1. 

Along with the astronauts, stars of the event included a Class of 2020 mosaic honoring students around the world in elementary, middle school, high school and college who were graduating in 2020. It is made up of photos of those graduates submitted to SpaceX and assembled into a mosaic of Earth. They also showed "Tremor," a sequined dinosaur toy made by Ty that flew on Demo-2 and "Earthie," a plush Celestial Buddy toy that flew on the Demo-1 uncrewed test flight in March 2019 and stayed aboard the station.

A rocket returns

(Image credit: SpaceX via Twitter)

The drone ship Of Course I Still Love You made a triumphant return to Florida's Port Canaveral on June 2, carrying the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the Demo-2 mission three days before. 

As of this writing, it is unclear if SpaceX plans to reuse the rocket once again, or to preserve it as a historical artifact. 

Correction: This story was updated on June 9 to reflect that the Class of 2020 mosaic carried by the Demo-2 crew honored the student graduates of 2020 in elementary, middle and high school and college.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon:

  • The very first sentence? "The successful launch of two astronauts on a SpaceX Crew Dragon did not only make history May 30 ."
    Either it did or it didn't make history.
  • 7thGradeEnglishTeacher said:
    The very first sentence? "The successful launch of two astronauts on a SpaceX Crew Dragon did not only make history May 30 ."
    Either it did or it didn't make history.
    Sorry - you need to study up on English a bit. It is declarative and adds a second achievement.
  • English is my third language. Thank you for helping me discover this remarkable achievement by the US and spacex.