SpaceX founder Elon Musk said he was “overcome with emotion” after Nasa astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley launched into space on Saturday.
The pair are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) on a rocket and capsule system built by the billionaire entrepreneur’s firm.
He said: “I think this is something that should really get people right in the heart – anyone who has a spirit of exploration.”
He added: “I am really quite overcome with emotion – it’s kind of hard to talk really.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 30, 2020
“It’s been 18 years working towards this goal. It’s really hard to believe that it’s happened.
“This is a craft made by humans, for humans, I think it’s something humanity should be proud about occurring on this day.”
The Falcon 9 took off on Saturday at 8.22pm GMT from the Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral in Florida, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The mission, named Demo-2, marks the first time Nasa has launched astronauts from US soil in nine years.
SpaceX also made history by becoming first private company to send humans into orbit.
Mr Musk said the mission is the “first step on a journey that would see humans become a multi-planetary species”.
But despite the successful launch of astronauts into low-Earth orbit, Mr Musk said was was not keen to “declare victory yet”, emphasising that the “return can be more dangerous than the ascent”.
He added: “We need to bring them home safely and make sure that we are doing everything we can to minimise that risk of reentry.”
It will take Mr Behnken, 49, and Mr Hurley, 53, around 19 hours to reach the space station, where they will join the three other residents – Nasa’s Chris Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
5 mins to T-0
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 30, 2020
Together, they will become members of the Expedition 63 crew.
Earlier, US President Donald Trump said “a new age of American ambition has now begun”.
In a post-launch address, he said: “Under Nasa’s commercial crew programme, we will use rockets and spacecraft designed, built, owned and launched by private American companies at a fixed price for the American taxpayer.
“Today’s launch makes clear the commercial space industry is the future.”
Travelling at the speed of around 17,000mph, the Dragon capsule will continue to raise its orbit until it is ready to rendezvous and dock with the space station on Sunday at 3.29pm UK time.
The aim of the mission is to demonstrate SpaceX’s ability to ferry astronauts to the space station and back safely.
It is the final major step required by SpaceX’s astronaut carrier, the Crew Dragon, to get certified by Nasa’s Commercial Crew Programme for long-term manned missions to space.
The mission is expected to last anything between one and four months, with a number of tests being performed on the Dragon.