SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission for NASA launched early Thursday morning (March 2) with a complement of four astronauts, en route to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) in just over 24 hours.
A Falcon 9 Rocket lifted off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 00:34 a.m. (0534 GMT) Thursday, launching SpaceX’s ninth crewed flight to date, and the fourth for the Capsule Crew Dragon Endeavor. Riding Endeavor is an international crew that will replace the four Crew-5 astronauts currently inhabiting the ISS.
Roaring above Florida’s peaceful space coast, the Falcon 9 rocket lit up the early morning sky as it made its way to the orbiting laboratory.
Related: Meet the SpaceX Crew-6 astronauts who blast off to the International Space Station on February 26
More: Live updates on SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission for NASA
About two minutes and 40 seconds after liftoff, Falcon 9’s first stage separated and began to descend back to Earth. The thruster performed a series of engine burns, then landed on SpaceX‘s droneship Just read the instructions 9.5 minutes after launch. It was the booster’s first takeoff and landing — a relative rarity for SpaceX, which is known for its heavy reuse of rockets.
The rocket’s upper stage, meanwhile, continued to propel Endeavor into orbit. Just over 12 minutes after launch, the capsule separated from Falcon 9’s upper stage and began to fly freely.
“I just want to say, as a newbie flier, that was one hell of a ride. Thanks!” NASA astronaut Woody Hoburg, the pilot of Crew-6, told the SpaceX launch team shortly after the spacecraft separated.
Crew Dragon is “an absolute miracle of engineering, and I feel so lucky to be able to fly this amazing machine,” Hoburg added.
Two of Hoburg’s teammates – United Arab Emirates (UAE) Spaceflyer Sultan Al-Neyadi and cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev – are also first-time space travelers. But the mission commander, NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, has already visited the ISS three times in his career, but never for as long a stay as the group’s next six-month rotation.
This is the ninth crewed flight for SpaceX and its sixth operational mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew program. Crew Dragon Endeavor has now launched four crewed missions for SpaceX. The other three are Demo-2 crew test flight in 2020, Crew-2 in 2021 and all private Axiom Mission-1 in 2022.
Crew-6’s diverse international complement results from NASA’s crew swap agreement with the Russian space agency Roscosmos and a deal with Houston-based Axiom Space, which has partnered with the United Arab Emirates’ Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center to fill a seat.
Crew-6 is scheduled to arrive at the space station at 1:17 a.m. EST (0617 GMT) on Friday, March 3 and have a brief overlap with members of Crew-5, who are scheduled to depart the ISS approximately six days . from now on. The Crew-6 quartet will remain on the space station for about six months, and then the Crew-7 mission will launch to replace them.
Until then, Hoburg, Bowen, Al Neyadi, and Fedyaev will be busy tending to station maintenance and the ongoing experiments manifesto.
NASA and SpaceX first attempted to launch Crew-6 early Monday morning (February 27), but swept away the attempt about 2.5 minutes before liftoff due to an issue with the ignition fluid that helps ignite the Falcon 9’s first-stage engines. This issue was resolved in time for Thursday’s liftoff.
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