In a significant development, SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company launched four astronauts into space on a flight to the International Space Station on Sunday marking NASA’s first full-fledged mission sending a crew into orbit aboard a privately owned spacecraft.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, lifted off on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket at 7:27 p.m. eastern time (0027 GMT on Monday) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“That was one heck of a ride,” said astronaut Mike Hopkins on board the Crew Dragon capsule after an hour after liftoff.
“There was a lot of smiles.”
In the next 27 hours, Crew Dragon will gradually raise its orbit by firing a series of onboard thruster providing the astronauts time to eat their pre-packed dinners and give them around eight hours to rest before their scheduled docking with the International Space Station at 11 p.m. eastern time on Monday.
Less than two hours before launch, an air leak had caused an unexpected drop in capsule pressure, said NASA officials. Technicians however said they had conducted a successful leak check with the launch continuing to be on target.
Aboard the Crew Dragon capsules are two NASA astronauts, physicist Shannon Walker and mission pilot Victor Glover. They were joined by Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, making his third trip to space after previously flying on the U.S. shuttle in 2005 and Soyuz in 2009.
While originally the launch was to the space station, scheduled for Saturday, it was postponed because of gusty winds generated by Tropical Storm Eta which would have made the return landing for the Falcon 9’s reusable booster stage difficult, said NASA officials.
Speaking from SpaceX’s California headquarters, mission operator Jay Aranha, told the crew to “have an amazing trip, and know that we are all for one.”
Responding to Araha, Mission commander Mike Hopkins said “to all the people at NASA and SpaceX, by working together through these difficult times, you’ve inspired the nation the world.”
“And now it’s time for us to do our part, Crew 1 for all,” said Hopkins.
The launch was attended by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence who said, under President Donald Trump, America had “renewed our commitment to lead in human space exploration.” Tweeting his congratulations, President-elect Joe Biden said the launch was “a testament to the power of science.”