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SpaceX launch: Crew Dragon has launched as NASA astronauts race to the ISS 250 miles up

The NASA astronauts are now racing towards the edge of the atmosphere aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon Capsule. The Dragon has separated from the Falcon 9 rocket and is now flying towards the International Space Station (ISS). The launch blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center's historic Launch Complex 39A at 8.22pm BST (3.22pm ETD).

Shortly after launch, Falcon 9's first stage fell towards the Atlantic Ocean where it landed on a SpaceX drone ship. 

The rocket's second stage then pushed the astronauts into a stable orbit before separating from the Dragon. 

Speaking from space to Crew Dragon chief engineer Bala Ramamurthy, Mr Hurley said the launch was incredible.

He said: "Appreciate all the hard work and thanks for the great ride to space."

WATCH LIVE: NASA's stream of the Crew Dragon launch HERE

SpaceX launch: Crew Dragon launch

SpaceX launch: The Crew Dragon has launched and is on its way to the ISS (Image: NASA)

SpaceX launch: Falcon 9 lifting off

SpaceX launch: The Falcon 9 blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center (Image: GETTY)

According to NASA, some 10 million people tuned in to watch the launch online.

US President Donald Trump was also present at the Kennedy Space Center to watch the landmark event in person.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said: "I think he's the only sitting President to watch American astronauts launch on a brand new rocket that has never launched before. That's a big risk, you know."

Astronauts Behnken and Hurley will spend about 19 hours in orbit before they reach the space station.

During this time, the astronauts will test Crew Dragon's systems in space.

Minutes before the rocket took off, Mr Hurley said: "It is absolutely our honour to be part of this huge effort to get the United States back in the launch business. We'll talk to you from orbit. Thank you."

The SpaceX CORE team also said: "Have an amazing flight and enjoy those views of our beautiful planet."

The Crew Dragon has been designed to ferry humans into orbit autonomously but the spacecraft can be taken over for manual control.

The launch marks the first flight of US astronauts from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011.

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SpaceX launch: Crew Dragon in space

SpaceX launch: The Crew Dragon is now flying into orbit (Image: NASA)

SpaceX launch: Falcon 9 flying to space

SpaceX launch: The Falcon 9's first stage landed on a droneship in the Atlantic (Image: NASA TV)

Appreciate all the hard work and thanks for the great ride to space

Doug Hurley, NASA astronaut

The US space agency has instead relied on its Russian partners to purchase seats on the Soyuz spacecraft for up to £73million ($90million) per seat.

NASA and SpaceX originally pencilled in the launch for Wednesday, May 27, but the mission was pushed back due to stormy weather.

After 19 hours in orbit, the Crew Dragon will dock with the ISS some 250 miles above the Earth.

There are currently three people on the orbital lab - NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

Crew Dragon will remain docked to the ISS between a month and 120 days.

This is a breaking story. More to follow...

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