The SpaceX mission launch vehicle, consisting of a Crew Dragon capsule, sat atop a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket. It climbed into the night sky from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as its nine Merlin engines thundered to life about 9 pm (0200 GMT Thursday).
“Crew 3” comprises two members of NASA’s latest graduating group of astronauts. Raja Chari, 44, is a US Air Force combat jet and test pilot working as mission commander and mission expert Kayla Barron, 34, is a US Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer.
NASA and private rocket company SpaceX propelled four astronauts into orbit late on Wednesday en route to the ISS, including a veteran spacewalker and two younger crewmates chosen to join NASA’s future lunar missions.
Lift-off of the Dragon spacecraft, titled Endurance by the crew, was televised live from Cape Canaveral on NASA TV. Intermittent rain and clouds over the Cape ahead in the day had cast uncertainty on launch prospects, but the weather opened by flight time, NASA said.
On Thursday evening, the three American spacemen and their European Space Agency crewmate were due to land at the space station, orbiting some 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth following a flight of approximately 22 hours.
The flight registers the third “operational” space station crew carried to orbit aboard a Dragon capsule since NASA and SpaceX coupled up to resume space launches from American land last year, following a nine-year break at the end of the US space shuttle program in 2011.
The team’s designated pilot and second-in-command are veteran astronaut Tom Marshburn, 61, a medical physician and previous NASA flight surgeon who has logged two prior spaceflights to the space station and four spacewalks. The crew is European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, 51, of Germany, a materials science engineer.
Indian-Origin Astronaut Leads SpaceX Mission
Chari, Barron, and Maurer performed their debut spaceflights with Wednesday’s launch, maturing the 599th, 600th, and 601st individuals in space. Both Chari and Barron are amongst the initial group of 18 astronauts chosen for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions, sighted at returning humans to the moon following this decade, over a half-century after the Apollo lunar program ended.
It is the fourth crewed cruising overall in 17 months beneath NASA’s public-private partnership with SpaceX, the rocket company established in 2002 by Musk, the billionaire chief executive of electric car producer Tesla Inc.
The first was a two-astronaut test run to the space station in May 2020, followed by the virgin NASA-SpaceX operational “Crew 1” in November. Then, finally, “Crew 2” was launched to the space station and just retreated securely to Earth on Monday night by a splashdown capping a record stay of 199 days in orbit.
The most advanced mission also observes a flurry of recent high-profile Astro-tourism flights, including the SpaceX launch in September of “Inspiration 4,” the first all-civilian crew sent to orbit without a professional astronaut on board.
Earlier this month, 90-year-old actor William Shatner, famed for playing Captain James T. Kirk on the original 1960s “Star Trek” TV series. Instead, it created headlines riding aboard a rocketship propelled by billionaire Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin to become the oldest personality to fly in space.
The “Crew 3” team will embrace the orbiting laboratory by its three current occupants – two cosmonauts from Russia and Belarus and a US astronaut. They shared a Soyuz flight to orbit with them earlier this year.