Officials blame outsiders for violence in Minnesota but contradict one another on who is responsible – By Shane Harris May 30, 2020 at 5:39 p.m. PDT


In the early hours of May 30, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) said violent protests in response to George Floyd’s death in his state were “incredibly dangerous.” (KSTP/AP)

As unrest continued in Minneapolis on Saturday following the death of George Floyd during his detention by city police, leaders at the federal, state and local levels said large numbers of outsiders had seized upon protests begun by Minnesotans to advance their own political agendas.

But the officials offered little evidence to show who was responsible and contradicted one another on who was to blame.

They variously assigned responsibility for the escalating violence to far-right nationalists, left-wing radicals, drug cartels and possibly foreign agents in statements, news conferences and presidential tweets.

Ultimately, the confusion of rioting and looting that officials said had outstripped the capabilities of local law enforcement and prompted a historic deployment of the National Guard offered little clarity and ample opportunity for opposing political parties to advance their own theories.

Protesters walk past a burning gas station Friday in Minneapolis.
Protesters walk past a burning gas station Friday in Minneapolis. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) told reporters he had no doubt that protests over Floyd’s death began with Minnesotans frustrated and outraged “with inequality, inequities and quite honestly racism that persisted” in the state.

But state officials have assessed that up to 80 percent of those protesting or rioting came from outside Minnesota, Walz said. He suggested that far-right white supremacists and perhaps organized drug cartels were chiefly responsible.

A federal law enforcement official was not aware of any intelligence about cartels infiltrating the protests.

But according to local officials, most people arrested in protest-related incidents were state residents.

Attorney General William P. Barr spoke May 30 about the protests spurred by George Floyd’s death, saying crossing state lines to riot is a federal crime. (The Washington Post)

Of the 57 people arrested through Saturday morning, 47 (82 percent) provided a Minnesota address to authorities, said Jeremy Zoss, a spokesman for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. Most of them gave addresses from Minneapolis and St. Paul, according to data provided to The Washington Post. The 10 other people arrested were from another state or the state wasn’t provided, Zoss said.

State officials said that after reviewing posts online, they were confident far-right racist groups had encouraged their followers to descend on the state and take advantage of the crisis.

John Harrington, commissioner of Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety, said officials were “checking to see, are they part of an organized criminal organization?”

“Is this organized crime? Is this an organized cell of terror?” he said, referring to posts by white nationalist groups.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) said local law enforcement had been “overwhelmed” by the huge number of people on his city’s streets.

“We are now confronting white supremacists, members of organized crime, out-of-state instigators, and possibly even foreign actors to destroy and destabilize our city and our region,” he said.

Walz suggested that U.S. intelligence agencies were providing the state with information about who was behind the protests, implying that the National Security Agency, which monitors foreign governments and terrorist organizations, might be playing a role.

U.S. officials dismissed those claims, noting that, by law, the NSA does not monitor domestic political activities. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, were also skeptical that foreigners were taking part in protests or had helped organized them. Foreign media, including Chinese and Russian sources, have sought to portray the violence as emblematic of systemic political failings in the United States.

State officials weren’t the only ones trying to pin protests in Minneapolis and other cities on politically motivated outsiders.

“The voices of peaceful protest are being hijacked by violent radical elements,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement from Justice Department headquarters.

Unlike state officials, Barr was unequivocal on who was to blame, claiming that the protests were “planned, organized and driven by anarchic and far-left extremist groups using antifa-like tactics,” referring to anti-fascist groups that have used violence.

Barr offered no evidence to support those assertions, and his descriptions ran counter to Walz, who blamed the violence, at least in part, on far-right actors.

President Trump wrote in a tweet that 80 percent of the Minnesota protesters had come from out of state, concurring with the governor’s assessment. But like Barr, he singled out only far-left groups.

“It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others!” Trump tweeted.

As More Americans Prepare To Vote By Mail, Postal Service Faces Big Challenges Brian Naylor May 30, 2020 7:01 AM ET


Eight states and the District of Columbia are holding primary elections next week amid the coronavirus pandemic, and voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail in record numbers.

It is likely to be a preview of what’s to come in the fall, and some worry whether the U.S. Postal Service is up to the challenge.

A lot of people like the Postal Service; according to a recent Pew poll, 91% of Americans had a positive view, higher than any other branch of government. But it’s an agency with some big problems.

To start, President Trump has called it a joke, demanded it raise its rates and and made unfounded claims that mailed ballots will be “substantially fraudulent” and that mail boxes will be robbed.

That’s a false assertion, says Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser to the Democracy Fund. She tells NPR that voters need options like voting by mail during this pandemic.

“For many, many people this year, it’s going to be to get their ballot delivered to them by the United States Postal Service. Now, calling that into question, saying that people will be taking mail out of mailboxes — that’s just not going to happen.”

Uncounted ballots

The Postal Service has had some issues with mail-in voting lately.

In Wisconsin last month, three tubs of ballots were discovered, never having reached voters. Earlier this month in in Ohio, hundreds of ballots that were postmarked on time were delivered too late to be counted.

But Patrick says not all the blame should fall on the Postal Service.

She notes that in Ohio, “you could request a ballot to be mailed to you on Saturday, up until noon, for Tuesday’s election. Now, the mail delivery is two to five business days. So the some of the policies, some of the practices that we have in place,” she says, “are really not voter-centric. They’re not setting up the voters to succeed, but rather to fail.”

Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote At Home Institute, says election officials should follow best practices that have been developed in some Western states, where voting by mail is a common if not the standard practice.

“There are models that exist and there’s things that have been really successful,” she says.

McReynolds says she’s not concerned about the prospect for an increased volume of mail if more people send in their ballots.

“When you look at the overall numbers,” she says, “in what the post office processes on a yearly basis, adding vote by mail is just a very small fraction of the volume that they normally deal with.”

The Postal Service released a letter on Friday it sent to state and local election officials, reminding them of the need to account for delivery times and suggesting they use bar codes to identify their mail-in ballots.

Red ink

The Postal Service’s financial woes pose another concern. The agency ran an $8.8 billion deficit last fiscal year.

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, says the Postal Service may run out of cash by early fall without an infusion of funding from Congress — which the Trump administration opposes.

“If the post office is allowed to run out of money without relief then all postal operations become in jeopardy — and that would include the tremendous access to the ballot box and not just the ballot box, but voter information,” Dimondstein says.

New faces at the top

Against this backdrop, the Postal Service is coming under new management.

Louis DeJoy, a businessman and high-dollar donor to Republicans — including the president — was named the new postmaster general. He takes office next month.

The deputy postmaster, Ronald Stroman, the agency’s highest ranking African American is also leaving next month.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, says she is concerned about the leadership turnover at a time when she says the postal service is playing such an important role for the nation.

“We’re in a crisis moment in the country right now that really demands that we respond,” she says, “and that we do all that we can to ensure that no voter is locked out of the ballot box because of the pandemic.”

Trump’s opposition to voting by mail, and the possibility of disruptions in the Postal Service raise questions about how well voting by mail will function this year.

Clarke says she believes the nation needs a functional postal service to insure all Americans have access to ballots.

https://www.npr.org/2020/05/30/865258362/as-more-americans-prepare-to-vote-by-mail-postal-service-faces-big-challenges

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Speaks to Supporters About the Minneapolis Protests – Samantha Michaels MAY 30, 2020


“You better be calling for accountability in our policing.”

Following a fourth night of protests in Minneapolis, as thousands took to the streets demanding an end to police violence against Black people, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urged her supporters to take a broad view of the demonstrations, and spoke critically about those who are calling for a stop to the unrest, which has included the looting and burning of buildings.

“If you are calling for an end to this unrest, and if you are a calling for an end to all of this, but you are not calling for the end of the conditions that created the unrest, you are a hypocrite,” she said in a video on Instagram Saturday morning, posted above. “So if you’re out here calling for the end of unrest, then you better be calling for health care as a human right, you better be calling for accountability in our policing, you better be supporting community review boards, you better be supporting the end of housing discrimination…Because if you don’t call for those things and you’re asking for the end of unrest, all you’re asking for is the continuation of quiet oppression.”

Dozens of cities saw protests on Friday night over the death of a Black man named George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis on Monday. The officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned Floyd to the ground by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, even after Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe and appeared to go unconscious on the concrete. While many protesters in Minneapolis and other cities have remained peaceful, some have turned violent, stealing and setting buildings on fire; a man in Minneapolis was fatally shot during protests on Wednesday.

“This is not to condone violence, this is not to condone any of that,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “But…we have to really ask ourselves the question as to why so many people were okay ignoring these problems until a window got broken. Why does it take that for people to pay attention?”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Speaks to Supporters About the Minneapolis Protests

Widespread unrest as curfews defied across US – BBC May 31, 2020


Protesters took to the streets of many cities to voice their anger following the death of George Floyd

Curfews have been ordered in cities across the US to try to stem unrest sparked by the death of a black man in police custody.

But they have been defied in many areas, with shops looted, cars burned and buildings attacked. Riot police have used tear gas and rubber bullets.

President Donald Trump urged “healing” over the death of George Floyd but said he could not allow mobs to dominate.

A white ex-policeman is charged with murdering Mr Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis.

Derek Chauvin, 44, is due to appear in court on Monday.

In video footage, Mr Chauvin can be seen kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck for several minutes on Monday. Mr Floyd repeatedly says that he is unable to breathe.

Three other officers present at the time have also since been sacked.

The Floyd case has reignited US anger over police killings of black Americans. It follows the high-profile cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York and others that have driven the Black Lives Matter movement.

But for many it also reflects years of frustration over socioeconomic inequality and segregation, not least in Minneapolis itself.

What’s the latest on the protests?

Huge demonstrations have taken place in at least 30 cities across the US. They were largely peaceful on Saturday, but violence flared later in the day.

One of the cities worst affected by unrest is Los Angeles. California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the city and activated the National Guard – the reserve military force that can be called on to intervene in domestic emergencies.

The entire city is under a 20:00 to 05:30 curfew. Numerous shops have been looted, including on the famous retail avenues, Melrose and Fairfax, while overhead footage showed fires burning. Earlier police fired rubber bullets and hit protesters with batons. Hundreds of arrests have been made.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said this was “the heaviest moment I’ve experienced” since the riots in 1992 that were sparked by the acquittal of police over the beating of Rodney King.

Police are deployed as a fire burns in Los Angeles, which is under curfewReuters
Police are deployed as a fire burns in Los Angeles, which is under curfew

In New York, video showed a police car driving into a crowd of protesters. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the situation was not started by the officers, but Congress Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said his comments were unacceptable and he should not be making excuses for the officers.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot imposed a 21:00 to 06:00 curfew until further notice, saying she was “disgusted” by the violence.

“I’ve seen protesters hurl projectiles at our police department… bottles of water, urine and Lord knows what else,” she said.

In Atlanta, protesters remained on the streets after the curfew began, damaging property and vehicles. Dozens of arrests were made.

A firework explodes near a police line during a protest in Atlanta, Georgia, in response to the police killing of George Floyd, 30 May 2020Getty Images
A firework explodes near a police line during a protest in Atlanta

Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, has seen less violence overnight. Some 700 National Guard officers are aiding police and they acted quickly to enforce the curfew imposed there. The Star Tribune said the action had so far headed off the unrest of the previous night.

For the second day running, a large crowd of protesters taunted National Guard officers outside the White House in Washington, DC.

Indianapolis was one of the cities that had seen peaceful protests during the day turn violent later. At least one shooting death has occurred, but police said no officers had discharged weapons.

In under-curfew Philadelphia, 13 police officers were hurt and at least 35 arrests made as stores were looted, police cars torched and buildings defaced.

Overnight curfews have also been declared in Miami, Portland and Louisville, among other cities, although many were simply ignored.

San Francisco is the latest to impose a curfew, announced by Mayor London Breed for 20:00 local time on Sunday, after looting and violence.

But amid the violence there were also moments of solidarity. In Flint, Michigan, Sheriff Chris Swanson took off the riot helmets of his men, laid down batons and asked protesters what they wanted. After hugs and high fives, they chanted “walk with us” and the sheriff did.

Presentational white space

What has the president said?

On Saturday evening, Mr Trump said that Mr Floyd’s death had “filled Americans with horror, anger and grief”.

“I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking peace,” he said in a televised address from Cape Canaveral in Florida, following the launch into orbit of two Nasa astronauts by billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.

People arrange donations at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, 30 on May 2020Getty Images
Minnesota residents arrange food and drink donations for those participating in peaceful protests

The president denounced the actions of “looters and anarchists”, accusing them of dishonouring the memory of Mr Floyd. What was needed, he said, was “healing not hatred, justice not chaos”.

“I will not allow angry mobs to dominate – won’t happen,” he added.

Mr Trump has blamed the mayor of Minneapolis – a Democrat – for failing to control the protests, which are the worst since the president took office.

The president’s Democratic Party rival, Joe Biden, has accused him of giving oxygen to bigotry and said those responsible for Mr Floyd’s death must be held accountable.

But he also condemned rioting, saying: “Protesting such brutality is right and necessary. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not.”

Many mayors and local officials have been trying to separate the genuine protests over Mr Floyd’s death from the violent unrest, often blaming “outsiders” for the looting and arson. There have been many reports of residents trying to stop acts of violence.

Rapper Killer Mike: “It is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy”

What happened to George Floyd?

On Monday night, police received a phone call from a neighbourhood grocery store alleging that George Floyd had paid with a counterfeit $20 note.

Officers were attempting to put him in a police vehicle when he dropped to the ground, telling them he was claustrophobic.

According to police, he physically resisted officers and was handcuffed. Video of the incident does not show how the confrontation started.

With Mr Chauvin’s knee on his neck, Mr Floyd can be heard saying “please, I can’t breathe” and “don’t kill me”.

According to a preliminary autopsy by the county medical examiner, the police officer had his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds – almost three minutes of which was after Mr Floyd became non-responsive.

Minnesota governor on George Floyd death: ‘Thank God a young person had a camera to video it’

Nearly two minutes before Mr Chauvin removed his knee the other officers checked Mr Floyd’s right wrist for a pulse and were unable to find one. He was taken to hospital and pronounced dead around an hour later.

The preliminary autopsy, included in the criminal complaint against Mr Chauvin, did not find evidence of “traumatic asphyxia or strangulation”.

The medical examiner noted Mr Floyd had underlying heart conditions and the combination of these, “potential intoxicants in his system” and being restrained by the officers “likely contributed to his death”.

Mr Chauvin was charged on Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter over his role in Mr Floyd’s death.

Mr Floyd’s family said they wanted a more serious, first-degree murder charge as well as the arrest of the three other officers involved.

Hennepin County Prosecutor Mike Freeman said he “anticipates charges” for the other officers but would not offer more details.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52865206

Two New Asian Giant Hornet Sightings in Pacific Northwest – By Alex Fox SMITHSONIANMAG.COM MAY 29, 2020


The sightings, both of individual dead hornets, expand the area currently being patrolled by scientists hoping to track and eradicate the invasive insect

Asian giant hornet and bald-faced hornet
Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney holds a dead invasive Asian giant hornet alongside the smaller, native bald-faced hornet. With the addition of two new sightings recorded in the last month in Washington and British Columbia, there have now been six confirmed sightings of the world’s largest hornet in North America. (ELAINE THOMPSON / POOL / AFP via Getty Images)
smithsonianmag.com

In early May, news of a super-sized insect invader with a taste for honey bees drew widespread attention. The Asian giant hornet of Japan and Southeast Asia—dubbed the “murder hornet” by at least one Japanese researcher, perhaps owing to a foible of translation—was seen in North America for the first time in 2019. The four sightings prompted scientists in the United States and Canada to set traps in hopes of finding and eradicating the invasive species before it could establish a foothold in North America.

Now, two new confirmed sightings of individual Asian giant hornets—one in Washington State and one in British Columbia—have expanded the area being patrolled by researchers, reports Mike Baker of the New York Times.

The hornet fails to fit the legal definition of murder but fairly earns the title of “giant.” With queens up to two inches long, the species is the world’s largest hornet. Just a few of these enormous buzzing insects can slaughter an entire hive of honeybees in a matter of hours, decapitating thousands of adult bees, whose stingers can’t pierce the hornets’ armor.

It’s this appetite for apian destruction that worries officials at the WSDA. “If it becomes established, this hornet will have negative impacts on the environment, economy, and public health of Washington State,” the agency writes.

Dead Asian giant hornet
A photo of the dead Asian giant hornet spotted near the town of Custer in Washington State in late May. (WSDA / Joel Nielsen)

One of the new sightings occurred earlier this week when a resident spotted a large dead insect on the side of the road in Custer, Washington, according to a statement from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). State and federal labs confirmed the specimen’s identity, but the statement notes it was encountered within the area already being monitored by local officials hoping to find and destroy any nesting colonies.

But earlier this month, a woman in Langley, British Columbia, killed a strange insect she encountered near her home by crushing it with her foot, reports local broadcast station KING 5 NBC. The corpse was collected by local officials and confirmed to be an Asian giant hornet, Paul van Westendorp, a provincial apiculturist for British Columbia, tells the Times.

Langley is eight miles north of last year’s pair of U.S. sightings near Blaine, Washington, suggesting the invaders may have spread farther than scientists anticipated.

“This particular insect has acquired a larger distribution area at this time than we had thought,” Van Westendorp tells the Times. In a letter Van Westendorp sent to local beekeepers that was posted to Facebook by apiculturist Laura Delisle, he writes that the specimen will be necropsied to determine if it was a queen or a worker and that “it is expected that more sightings will be reported in the coming months.” He further calls on beekeepers “to be vigilant and report any unusual activities and sightings.”

However, even in light of the expanded search area in Canada, Osama El-Lissy, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Protection and Quarantine Program says “at this time, there is no evidence that Asian giant hornets are established in Washington State or anywhere else in the United States.”

If a population of Asian giant hornets established itself in the U.S. it would pose a threat to honey bees, but the risks to public health may be more debatable. As Floyd Shockley, the entomology collections manager at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History pointed out when news of the hornet’s arrival first circulated, “more people die of honey bee stings in the U.S. than die annually, globally, from these hornets. About 60 to 80 people die from [allergic] reactions to honey bee stings [in the U.S.]; only about 40 people die per year, in Asia, mostly in Japan, from reactions to the [giant hornet] stings.”

The WSDA site notes the Asian giant hornet isn’t particularly aggressive towards humans or pets but will attack if threatened, with each hornet being capable of delivering multiple, potent stings. Douglas Main of National Geographic reports that though the venom of a honeybee is more toxic, giant hornets can inject roughly 10-times more venom.

It would take “a couple hundred” giant hornet stings to kill a human, compared to roughly 1,000 honeybee stings, Justin Schmidt, an entomologist who studies insect venom and is responsible for the eponymous Schmidt Pain Index, tells National Geographic.

Van Westendorp tells the Times most people shouldn’t worry about the giant hornets (unless they’re allergic) and worries undue hysteria could result in people harming their local environment by killing bees and wasps they’ve misidentified as Vespa mandarinia (the hornet’s scientific name). Jennifer King of KING 5 reports several fake signs purporting to warn hikers of nesting giant hornets in the area were removed from trailheads in Washington over Memorial Day Weekend.

SpaceX Pulled It Off – Marina Koren May 30, 2020


Elon Musk’s aerospace company just launched two NASA astronauts into space for the first time.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the SpaceX capsule
NASA

For nearly a decade, if Americans wanted to leave the planet, they had to do so from a launchpad in Kazakhstan. Now they need only go as far as Florida.

Two astronauts launched into space this afternoon, departing from the sandy shores of Cape Canaveral, from the same launchpad where the space shuttles and Apollo missions once took off. The astronauts work for NASA, but for the first time in spaceflight history, they’re flying on a truly private spacecraft, designed from top to bottom by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace company.

Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken made the journey wearing SpaceX suits, inside a SpaceX capsule, atop a SpaceX rocket, from a SpaceX-operated launchpad.

The astronauts are bound for the International Space Station, humankind’s only off-world residence, where one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are waiting for them. The successful launch makes SpaceX the first private company to put astronauts in orbit, a feat achieved by only three spacefaring nations: Russia, the United States, and China.

Read: American spaceflight is now is Elon Musk’s hands

SpaceX tried to launch earlier this week, but that attempt was called off less than 20 minutes before the scheduled liftoff because of weather conditions, including lightning near the launchpad.

Today, as the clock ticked down toward launch and anticipation heightened, one could almost forget that this moment was unfolding in the midst of a pandemic—and as cities across the country experience intense civil unrestover the police killings of black Americans. But the sight of Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, wearing a mask as he spoke with Hurley and Behnken brought the surreal circumstances into stark relief. Hurley and Behnken were tested for COVID-19 at least twice before they launched, and have spent several weeks in quarantine. President Donald Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, flew to Cape Canaveral to witness the launch.

The send-off is also a reminder of how this mission is so different from any other in U.S. history. NASA has always relied on contractors to build the capsules and rockets that take people beyond the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. But the agency has given SpaceX an unprecedented amount of responsibility in this effort: SpaceX engineers are at the consoles, they gave the final word for launch, and they’ll be the ones communicating with the astronauts on their journey to the space station.

Read: Why SpaceX wants a tiny Texas neighborhood so bad

In this new chapter of American spaceflight, Mission Control isn’t in Houston. It’s on a street called Rocket Road in Hawthorne, California, at the headquarters of a company that Musk founded less than 20 years ago for this very purpose—to send people to space, on missions as far as Mars. This launch brings SpaceX closer to that vision, or at least closer to convincing the public that the company could someday pull off such a feat. SpaceX is workingon a solo space effort, a spaceship designed to deliver dozens of people to Mars. That launch day is likely years away, but SpaceX can now say that it has experience launching the most precious cargo off of Earth. (SpaceX lost its fourth prototype yesterday, when it exploded during an engine test.)

The first passengers of this flight, Hurley and Behnken, are seasoned spaceflight veterans, with four flights on America’s space shuttles between them. Hurley flew on the final space-shuttle mission, in 2011. The George W. Bush administration had decided earlier that the program would be wound down, because of a mix of cost, political, and safety factors. In the years since, NASA has helped fund SpaceX’s effort to develop a brand-new astronaut-transportation system that the space agency could then hire for the job.

Hurley’s crew left a memento—a small American flag—on the ISS before they departed, for a future crew, arriving inside a homegrown capsule again, to bring back to Earth. At the time, Hurley never imagined that this new program would bring him full circle. “I certainly didn’t expect to fly again,” he told reporters recently.

In true SpaceX fashion, the astronauts were taken to the launchpad in a Model X Tesla with NASA’s logo painted on the side. When they climbed into the car, their wives and young sons approached and touched the astronauts’ gloved hands through the rolled-down windows. Their spouses, Karen Nyberg and Megan McArthur, are astronauts too, and they know perhaps better than anyone the risks of spaceflight. Earlier this week, Musk told their sons, “We’ve done everything we can to make sure your dads come back.”

Today’s launch wasn’t even the hardest part of the mission. SpaceX has mastered launching Falcon 9 rockets over the years, and perfected the intricate maneuver that returns boosters back to Earth, where they gently land upright, ready to be used again, a move that many in the aerospace industry once thought impossible.

Once in orbit, Hurley and Behnken will change out of their spacesuits, conduct a long checklist of tests and procedures, and eat some dinner, specially prepared by NASA food scientists to keep well in microgravity. They will even sleep. The astronauts will spend about 19 hours in space as the Crew Dragon capsule adjusts its trajectory and catches up to the ISS.

Read: An alarming discovery in an astronaut’s bloodstream

The capsule is designed to make this journey autonomously. SpaceX flew a mission to the space station last year with a mannequin on board, and the flight software behaved flawlessly, safely delivering the capsule to the ISS and back. (That capsule was later destroyed during testing on the ground, but NASA and SpaceX officials say they have remedied the problems that led to the explosion.) Astronauts used to have to manually attach the space shuttle to the ISS, but Dragon can do it on its own.

Hurley and Behnken will now get a chance to fly the capsule manually for testing purposes without changing their path, and they can take control of the spacecraft if needed.

NASA has set the rules for keeping the astronauts safe from start to finish, and the agency made the call that SpaceX was ready to launch. This is the first time that Americans have flown on a brand-new spacecraft since 1981. If something goes wrong, NASA will have to answer for its contractor. But earlier this week, Musk said that if things go south, the blame should fall on him.

“I’m the chief engineer of the thing, so I’d just like to say, if it goes right, it’s a credit to the SpaceX/NASA team,” Musk said in a CBS News interview that aired before the launch. “If it goes wrong, it’s my fault.”

When the CBS News reporter asked what keeps Musk up at night about this launch, Musk replied, “Not one thing.” Bridenstine, standing with them, chimed in with a smile: “There’s lots of things.”

Although this is SpaceX’s mission, NASA officials will be watching over its shoulder. Before the launch, Bridenstine told me the agency could take over if needed. “If we see something that we disagree with, certainly, we have the right to intervene,” he said, but “I don’t see that being necessary at this point.”

SpaceX is one of two commercial companies NASA hired to help in the effort to return human spaceflight to American shores. The other company, Boeing, is developing its own system, but experienced a major setback late last year when its capsule, flying without people, failed to reach the ISS and was forced to return to the ground. An investigation has uncovered a litany of errors in Boeing’s flight software, and NASA wants the company to conduct a do-over mission before the agency can determine whether it’s safe enough to fly astronauts.

This afternoon’s successful launch means SpaceX has edged out Boeing in the effort to send NASA astronauts to space. Both companies have faced technical issues and schedule delays since they received their NASA contracts in 2014, and each side has publicly resisted describing the effort as a “race.” Doing so would risk the perception that the companies were focused on speed over safety. But SpaceX can bask a little bit in this milestone, knowing it beat a longtime NASA contractor that, for younger commercial companies in the industry, represents an old way of space travel.

Hurley and Behnken are expected to remain on the ISS for several weeks, perhaps even a few months. The astronauts received extra training for this purpose, including, for Behnken, a few practice runs in the giant pool at Johnson Space Center, where astronauts rehearse spacewalking. If the mission goes well, the next crew will fly in August, and SpaceX could start selling seats on the capsule to other customers beyond NASA. The astronauts know they are stewards of what SpaceX hopes is the first of many flights.

“Our goal through this entire process is to not turn the spacecraft into Bob and Doug’s excellent machine, and with a bunch of things that only Doug likes or only Bob likes,” Behnken told reporters before the launch.

For now, though, the spacecraft is all theirs.

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