SpaceX launched four people to the International Space Station from Florida on Wednesday, as Elon Musk’s company keeps up a steady pace of crewed missions.
Known as Crew-5, the mission for NASA will bring the group up to the ISS for a six-month stay in orbit. The mission is SpaceX’s fifth operational crew launch for NASA to date, and the company’s eighth human spaceflight in just over two years.
“That was a smooth ride uphill,” NASA astronaut and Crew-5 commander Nicole Mann said after the spacecraft reached orbit, adding that “you got three rookies that are pretty happy to be floating in space right now.”
Crew-5 got off the ground shortly after noon ET, beginning an estimated 29-hour journey to dock with the ISS. The mission brings the number of astronauts SpaceX has launched to 30, including both government and private missions, since its first crewed launch in May 2020.
SpaceX launched the astronauts in its Crew Dragon capsule called Endurance, on top of a Falcon 9 rocket. Both the rocket and capsule are reusable.
Endurance is flying to space for a second time – having flown the Crew-3 mission to and from the ISS in the past year.
Crew-5 carries four astronauts — two American, one Japanese and one Russian: NASA astronauts Mann and Josh Cassada, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.
NASA made a “seat swap” agreement with Roscosmos to fly Kikina, making her both the first Russian cosmonaut to fly with SpaceX and the first to launch on a U.S. spacecraft since 2002.
SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon spacecraft and fine-tuned its Falcon 9 rocket under NASA’s competitive Commercial Crew program, competing against Boeing’s Starliner capsule. But Boeing’s capsule remains in development, with costly delays pushing back the start of operational Starliner flights.
Both of NASA’s astronauts flying Wednesday were reassigned from Boeing to SpaceX in a rare move by the space agency last year.
SpaceX has now won contracts for 14 NASA crew missions, to Boeing’s six.