How did NASA and SpaceX just make history?

Answer: By delivering NASA astronauts to the ISS in a commercial spacecraft.

Shutterstock/Christopher Halloran
Never before have astronauts of NASA traveled to the International Space Station (ISS) in a craft that was not built by NASA. That is, until now. 

On Saturday, NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken lifted off in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacefaring capsule. This marked the first time that a spacecraft built by a private company launched a crewed mission into orbit. This also marked the first crewed NASA launch since the Space Shuttle program was shuttered in 2011.

But that was not the end of the history-making. On Monday, spacecraft commander Hurley and joint operations commander Behnken docked the Crew Dragon at the ISS. At 1:02 p.m. Eastern, they became the first astronauts in history to board the ISS from a commercial craft.

The exact length of their stay aboard the ISS has not yet been determined, but the capsule was designed to be able to stay in orbit for a maximum of 110 days. Whenever Hurley and Behnken do depart from the ISS, the craft will autonomously return itself to Earth, splashing down off the Florida coast.