Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched a mission on Wednesday to take four astronauts into space for Nasa.
A Dragon capsule fitted on top of the Falcon 9 rocket is carrying the Crew-4 astronauts to the International Space Station, with the team expected to arrive on Thursday at 4.15am UAE time.
The rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 11.52am. The launch was streamed live by SpaceX and Nasa.
The crew comprises three Americans – mission commander Kjell Lindgren, pilot Bob Hines and mission specialist Jessica Watkins – and Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency.
The Dragon separated from the upper stage of the rocket at 12.06pm, allowing it to start its solo journey to the space station.
Nasa administrator Bill Nelson wished the crew good luck. “Kjell, Bob, Jessica, and Samantha will carry out research investigations that will help Nasa prepare for longer duration stays on the Moon – and eventually Mars. These missions wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated Nasa and SpaceX teams,” he tweeted.
It is the fourth Crew Dragon flight for Nasa’s commercial crew programme, in which the space agency has worked with private companies such as SpaceX to send astronauts to space from US soil.
The launch comes two days after four private astronauts returned from a two-week stay on the space station.
A SpaceX rocket carried the crew for space infrastructure company Axiom, which plans to build a commercial space station to replace the ISS at the end of this decade.
Meet the Crew-4 astronauts
Mr Lindgren is the commander of the mission and the Dragon spacecraft. He is responsible for all phases of the flight, from launch to re-entry.
This is his second space flight since becoming an astronaut in 2009. His previous mission was in 2015, when he spent 141 days aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Mr Hines is the pilot of the spacecraft and second in command for the mission. He is responsible for spacecraft systems and performance.
This will be his first flight since his selection as an astronaut in 2017. He served more than 22 years in the US Air Force as a test, fighter and instructor pilot.
This is also Ms Watkins’ first trip to space. She is a mission specialist and will work with Mr Lindgren and Mr Hines to monitor the spacecraft during the launch and re-entry.
Ms Cristoforetti will also serve as a mission specialist. This is her second trip to space, having spent five months on the ISS in 2015.
She was born in Italy and served as a pilot in the Italian Air Force before getting selected as an astronaut in 2009.
In 2019, she served as commander for Nasa’s 23rd Extreme Environment Mission Operations mission on a 10-day stay in Aquarius, the world’s only undersea research station.