SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule, launched four astronauts on flight to the International Space Station (ISS). The crew dubbed as Resilience, lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 0027 GMT on Monday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“That was one heck of a ride,” astronaut Mike Hopkins said from Crew Dragon to SpaceX mission control about an hour after liftoff. “There was a lot of smiles.”
Crew Dragon will gradually raise its orbit for the next 27 hours through a series of onboard thruster firings, giving the astronauts time to eat pre-packaged dinners and roughly eight hours to rest before docking at the International Space Station at 11 p.m. eastern time on Monday.
An air leak caused an unexpected drop in capsule pressure less than two hours before launch, NASA officials said. But technicians said they conducted a successful leak check, and the scheduled launch was still on.
The Resilience crew includes Hopkins and two fellow NASA astronauts, mission pilot Victor Glover and physicist Shannon Walker. They were 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.
The 27-hour ride to the space station, an orbiting laboratory some 250 miles above Earth, was originally scheduled to begin on Saturday.
Vice-President Mike Pence attended the launch and said beforehand that under President Donald Trump, America had “renewed our commitment to lead in human space exploration.”
President-elect Joe Biden Tweeted his congratulations, saying the launch was “a testament to the power of science.”
SpaceX carried two astronauts to and from the space station in August marking a trial flight.
NASA contracted SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to develop competing space capsules aimed at replacing its shuttle program and weaning the United States from dependence on Russian rockets to send astronauts to space.
SpaceX’s launch on Sunday was the first of six operational missions for NASA. The company has also booked private astronaut missions, including one slated to carry actor Tom Cruise in the coming years.