Four astronauts headed to space station in SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule


© Reuters. NASA and SpaceX launch the first operational commercial crew mission


By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four astronauts who launched into space aboard Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX were heading toward a Monday night rendezvous in NASA’s first full-fledged mission ferrying a crew into orbit on a privately owned spacecraft.

After launching at 7:27 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday (0027 GMT on Monday) atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, three U.S. astronauts and one Japanese astronaut awoke at noon (1700 GMT) on Monday from their scheduled eight-hour sleep in low-Earth orbit to the hit 1980s song “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins.

“We hope you enjoyed your first night aboard Dragon,” SpaceX flight controller Jay Aranha told Crew Dragon commander Mike Hopkins, speaking on a line from the company’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters.

“It was a very nice night onboard Resilience,” Hopkins replied from the capsule, traveling in orbit at roughly 17,500 miles (28,160 km) per hour. The gumdrop-shaped space capsule, which the astronauts named Resilience in a nod to the coronavirus pandemic, was scheduled to dock at 11 p.m. Monday (0400 GMT on Tuesday) at the space station, an orbital laboratory some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth where another U.S. astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts were awaiting their arrival.

The Resilience crew includes Hopkins, an Air Force colonel, and two fellow National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronauts: mission pilot Victor Glover and physicist Shannon Walker. They are joined by Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, making his third trip to space after previously flying on the U.S. shuttle in 2005 and Soyuz in 2009.

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Before receiving its flight certification from NASA last week, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon had been under development for roughly a decade under a public-private NASA program started in 2011 to revive the agency’s human spaceflight capability.

Sunday night’s launch marked SpaceX’s first operational mission for NASA under that program, after the rocket company launched and returned an initial test crew of two U.S. astronauts to space last summer.

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