It was a sad afternoon May 30, as countless scream­ing voices of protesters and rioters on streets of cities across Amer­ica drowned out that of a ground control launch team member of billionaire founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Brave NASA veteran astronauts Robert Behn­ken and Douglas Hurley rode atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 that afternoon as the rocket’s chilled propellants were ignited, lifting the spacecraft off the launch pad that once served the fabled Apollo space missions. As the ascending rocket roared to the heavens hurtling its crew toward the orbiting International Space Station, a female voice exclaimed, “Go NASA. Go SpaceX. Godspeed, Bob and Doug!”

Tens of millions of viewers tuned in or logged on to watch the “Launch America” SpaceX Crew Demo-2 launch. It was the first time in nearly a decade American astronauts were sent into space aboard an American spacecraft launched from American soil.

Were it not for Amer­ica’s major cities burning across the nation at the hands of violent looters who hijacked the efforts of peaceful protesters demonstrating in the aftermath of the senseless deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, this historic event could have been a much more pronounced celebration of American tenacity and innovation. But civil unrest in the wake of these police-involved killings overshadowed the weekend’s otherwise incredibly significant achievement.

The successful launch of the commercially built SpaceX Falcon 9 and subsequent docking of its Crew Dragon space capsule with the ISS places America back in the driver’s seat of its own future lunar landing and continued space exploration. U.S. astronauts now have a proven alternative to costly rides into space aboard Russian Soyuz rockets.

It isn’t clear if the successful launch signals the end for cooperative space travel between the U.S. and Russia, or the communist country’s long-held monopoly on space travel following NASA’s dismantling of the Space Shuttle program.

NASA has committed to one more trip with Russia as astronaut Kate Rubins sets out later this year on a six-month mission to the ISS at a $90 million price tag, almost double the seat cost on the Crew Dragon. Russia also could wish to contract with SpaceX or space travel competitor Boeing – testing is CST-100 Starliner on a second unmanned flight this year – to send its own cosmonauts to the ISS on their less costly alternatives to Russia’s Roscosmos space agency vehicles.

Either way, the success of the May 30 manned launch and ISS docking is a major step forward for private enterprise. Putting Behnken and Hurley on the moon and bringing them back home to Earth safely aboard the Crew Dragon will push the U.S. forward in putting other American astronauts back on the lunar surface and maybe an eventual trip to Mars.

This editorial reflects a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.

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