Four astronauts began their journey to the International Space Station (ISS) after a historic SpaceX launch.
It is the first full-fledged NASA mission to send a crew into orbit aboard a privately owned spacecraft, and the second time that SpaceX’s Dragon capsule has taken astronauts to the space station, after a test flight in May of this year.
The crew, consisting of three US NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut, took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 19:27 local time (12.27 GMT), after weather conditions had initially cast doubt on the launch.
It is also the second time in nearly a decade that a manned space flight has taken off from the United States, following the withdrawal of the shuttle program in 2011.
SpaceX will now operate a travel rotation to the ISS on behalf of NASA, acting as a taxi service at the station.
The crew will take approximately 27 hours to reach the ISS and will spend five to six months in Earth’s orbit.
In a feat of engineering, the dragon capsule would have to fly to the ISS in full operation, without the need for crew members to check it, unless, of course, they need it.
After thundering in the sky from Florida and through North Carolina, the ship followed the path of the North Atlantic as it entered orbit.
Once Dragon got to the right altitude, its first phase booster, known as Falcon 9, broke apart and successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean called Just Read The Instructions.
On board, Mike Hopkins, the crew leader, said it was “quite a ride” shortly after take-off, adding, “There were a lot of smiles.”
Mr. Hopkins is joined by physicist Shannon Walker and Navy Commander Victor Glover, who will be the first black astronaut to spend an extended period of time aboard the ISS.
Commander Glover will also make his first ever trip to the ISS, while the others have already called the station home.
Soichi Noguchi, Japanese, is also on board and is the third person in history to orbit three different types of spaceships.
When they reach the ISS, which is expected to be around 4:00 GMT on Tuesday morning, they will be greeted by NASA’s Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.
Dragon’s crew named their vessel Resilience, as a nod to the challenges 2020 presented.
Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, who runs SpaceX, revealed earlier he “most likely” has COVID-19, despite having reported having done so mixed test results last week.
After launch, he simply tweeted a love heart.
He had previously tweeted: “Astronaut launch today!”, Adding that despite the mild symptoms of the coronavirus, he felt “quite normal”.
US President Donald Trump hailed the launch, calling it “fantastic”, but added that NASA “was a closed mess when we took over.”
“Now it’s the hottest, most advanced space center in the world again, by far!”
Vice President Mike Pence was launching on the east coast of Florida on behalf of the president.
President-elect Joe Biden also tweeted saying, “Congratulations to NASA and SpaceX on today’s launch.
“It is a testament to the power of science and what we can achieve by harnessing our innovation, ingenuity and determination. I join all Americans and the Japanese people in wishing Godspeed astronauts on their journey.”