Elon Musk's company has launched Crew-4 to the International Space Station to carry out hundreds of scientific experiments.
SpaceX has launched four astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, less than two days after completing a private flight chartered by millionaires.
Wednesday’s launch is the first NASA crew comprised equally of men and women, including the first Black woman making a long-term spaceflight, Jessica Watkins.
“This is one of the most diversified, I think, crews that we’ve had in a really, really long time," NASA's space operations mission chief Kathy Lueders said on the eve of launch.
The astronauts are due to arrive at the space station Wednesday night, 16 hours after their predawn liftoff from Kennedy Space Center. They will spend five months at the orbiting lab.
Crew-4 is due to carry out hundreds of scientific experiments, including ongoing research into growing plants without soil in space and the development of an artificial human retina, which could restore meaningful vision to the millions of people who suffer from retinal degenerative disease, according to NASA scientist Heidi Parris.
SpaceX Launch Control wished the astronauts good luck and Godspeed moments before the Falcon rocket blasted off with the capsule, named Freedom by its crew.
“Our heartfelt thank you to every one of you that made this possible. Now let Falcon roar and Freedom ring,” radioed NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, the commander. Minutes later, their recycled booster had landed on an ocean platform and their capsule was safely orbiting Earth.
“It was a great ride,” he said.
‘Roaring back to life’
A week after the new crew arrives, the three Americans and German they’re replacing will return to Earth in their own SpaceX capsule. Three Russians also live at the space station.
SpaceX has now launched five crews for NASA and two private trips in just under two years.
The SpaceX capsules are fully automated - which opens the space gates to a broader clientele - and they're designed to accommodate a wider range of body sizes. At the same time, NASA and the European Space Agency have been pushing for more female astronauts.
Elon Musk's company became NASA's mainstay astronaut taxi in 2020.
Between 2011 – when the Space Shuttle program ended - and 2020, NASA was reliant on Russian Soyuz rockets for the service.
"Think how the Cape has transformed, think about all of those abandoned launchpads on the Cape, and how they are roaring back to life," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a press call Tuesday.