NASA and SpaceX launch 4 more astronauts into orbit in flight to the space station

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CAP CANAVERAL, Fla., Nov. 10 (Reuters) – NASA and private rocket company SpaceX launched four astronauts into orbit Wednesday night, sending a space veteran, two young teammates chosen for future lunar missions and a German scientist materials en route to the International Space Station.

The SpaceX-built launcher, consisting of a Crew Dragon capsule and a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida around 9 p.m. (02:00 GMT Thursday), with a reddish fireball lighting up the night sky as its nine Merlin engines come to life.

The take-off of the Dragon spacecraft, named Endurance by the crew, was broadcast live from Cape Canaveral on NASA TV, to the rhythm of cheers and applause from the mission controllers. Intermittent rains and clouds over Cape Town earlier in the day had cast doubt on the launch prospects, but the weather cleared with the flight time, NASA said.

The mission had been disrupted by a series of weather delays since its initial launch window on October 31. A postponement earlier this month was attributed to an unspecified medical issue with an astronaut, although NASA said the issue was resolved later.

Live video footage webcast by NASA showed the four crew members strapped into the pressurized cabin of their capsule and sitting calmly in their helmeted white and black flight suits moments after a launch that appeared to unfold perfectly.

Within 10 minutes of takeoff, the rocket’s top stage had put the crew’s capsule into orbit, according to launch commentators. Meanwhile, the reusable lower stage of the rocket, having detached itself from the rest of the spacecraft, returned to Earth and successfully landed on a landing pad floating on a drone in the Atlantic.

“I hope you enjoyed the ride”

As the Dragon separated from the top stage of the rocket moments later, a ground launch engineer radioed to the crew, “Welcome to orbit. Hope you enjoyed the ride. Dragon will get you from here. Have a nice trip. “

The three American astronauts and their European Space Agency teammate were due to arrive Thursday evening at the space station, orbiting some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, after a flight of about 22 hours.

The flight marks the third “operational” space station crew sent into orbit aboard a Dragon capsule since NASA and SpaceX teamed up to resume space launches from US soil last year, after a nine-hour hiatus. years at the end of the US space shuttle program in 2011.

“Crew 3” includes two members of NASA’s newest astronaut class – Raja Chari, 44, a US Air Force fighter and test pilot serving as mission commander, and mission specialist Kayla Barron, 34, a US Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, complete with the Crew Dragon capsule, is launched with three NASA astronauts and one ESA astronaut on a mission to the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA on 10 November 2021. REUTERS / Joe Skipper

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The designated pilot and second in command of the team is veteran astronaut Tom Marshburn, 61, a physician and former NASA flight surgeon who has already recorded two space flights to the space station and four spacewalks. The crew is completed by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer, 51, from Germany, a materials science engineer.

BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE

Chari, Maurer and Barron were all making their first space flights with Wednesday’s launch, becoming the 599th, 600th and 601st humans in space.

Chari and Barron are also among the first group of 18 astronauts selected for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions, aimed at bringing humans back to the moon later this decade, more than half a century after the Apollo lunar program ended. Read more

NASA has touted low-earth orbit space station missions as essential training grounds and incubators for technologies that will help achieve the goals of a sustainable lunar presence and eventual human flights to Mars.

With the Crew Dragon flying autonomously through space at over 17,000 miles per hour (27,360 km / h), the four astronauts were to eat and sleep before arriving at the space station to begin a science mission. six months aboard orbit. laboratory.

The launch is SpaceX’s fifth crewed flight in 17 months, and the fourth in NASA’s public-private partnership with the rocket company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc. (TSLA.O)

The first was a two-astronaut test to the space station in May 2020, followed by the first operational NASA-SpaceX “Crew 1” in November of the same year.

“Crew 2” flew to the space station in April this year and just returned safely to Earth Monday night with a splash covering a record 199 days in orbit.

The latest mission also follows a wave of recent high-profile astrotourism flights, including SpaceX’s September launch of “Inspiration 4,” the first fully civilian crew sent into orbit without a professional astronaut on board.

The “Crew 3” team, upon arrival at the space station, will be greeted on board by its three current occupants – two cosmonauts from Russia and Belarus and an American astronaut who shared a Soyuz flight into orbit earlier this year.

Reporting by Joe Skipper in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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