SpaceX Launches Astronauts in First Private Space Flight

The flight forms the first part of a six-month mission, which will be conducted using a commercial spacecraft for the first time.

On Sunday, SpaceX launched four astronauts – three from NASA and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – on a mission to the International Space Station.

The crew embarked on SpaceX’s newly designed Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience by the astronauts, which lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk was absent from the launch event, as mixed COVID-19 text results on the eve of the launch indicated that he had “most likely” contracted the virus. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell took over his official duties at the events, joining with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine for last-minute comments and photographs with the astronauts prior to the launch at 7:27pm EST.

“This is a great day for the United States of America, and a great day for Japan, and we look forward to many more years of a great partnership… all the way to the Moon,” said Bridenstine.

The Crew Dragon craft will reach the International Space Station at around 11pm EST today, marking the first leg of a six-month mission and the first crew rotation flight ever flown on a US commercial spacecraft.

SpaceX has signed contracts with NASA to develop, test and fly an astronaut taxi service. The contracts are valued at over $3 billion, and also call for six “operational” missions, of which the 15 November flight is the first.

Boeing has a similar deal with NASA, though its space flight capacity is roughly a year behind SpaceX.

“The big milestone here is that we are now moving away from development and test and into operational flights,” Bridenstine said. “And in fact this operational flight was licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. So this is a truly a commercial launch.”

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