Worth the wait: SpaceX launches Crew-3 astronauts to space station
NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer dock at the space station Thursday kicking off their six-month mission.
Launch day for the Crew-3 astronauts proved eventful after weeks of waiting for their launch to the International Space Station.
Misting rain and clouds covered the area around the launch site at Kennedy Space Center in Florida as SpaceX and NASA attempted to get the rocket off the ground. Forecasters promised the gloomy weather would clear in time for the Falcon 9 to blast off, and ultimately, it did.
NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer launched at 9:03 p.m. inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft named Endurance.
The fireball streaked across the night sky before disappearing behind clouds as the Falcon 9 moved away from Earth.
"Great job, SpaceX!" a launch watcher at Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral yelled after watching the bright light duck behind the clouds. Families and eager rocket fans began arriving early in the day at the favorite launch viewing site waiting out the rain to see the liftoff.
The rocket booster separated and came back for landing on SpaceX's droneship "A Shortfall of Gravitas" in the Atlantic Ocean.
A brand-new Crew Dragon spacecraft named Endurance continued, carrying the four astronauts into orbit. Dragon is set to dock at the International Space Station around 7 p.m. Thursday.
COUNTDOWN RECAP: Highlights leading up to Crew-3 liftoff
Chari, Barron, and Maurer experienced weightlessness for the first time with their spaceflight. The launch marks Marshburn's third spacecraft in his NASA astronaut career.
The zero-gravity indicator chosen by the crew was a small toy in the form of a turtle, fitting for Chari and Barron, who are both part of the 2017 NASA astronaut class nicknamed "The Turtles." They became the first of their class to fly to space.
Liftoff was delayed three times before the mission could get off the ground, primarily due to weather and then because of a minor medical issue with one of the astronauts. NASA officials said the medical problem cleared in time for Wednesday's launch.
The first launch window was planned for Halloween.
"When you try and fly on Halloween, sometimes you get a trick instead of a treat," Chari said before liftoff, adding they were honored to fly to the ISS on Veterans Day.
The Crew-3 astronauts will spend six months on the ISS conducting research and science onboard the orbiting laboratory.
The mission marks the fourth NASA commercial crew program launch with SpaceX, including a test flight in 2020 and the third long-duration mission. Just Monday, the last astronauts to launch to the ISS with SpaceX came back to Earth, splashing down off Pensacola's coast.
The 48-hour turnaround between the two events marked the quickest in human spaceflight history for a crew return and launch.
With the Crew-3 mission, SpaceX has now launched 18 people to space.
Beyond astronauts, SpaceX also delivers supplies to the International Space Station with its Cargo Dragon spacecraft.
According to Sarah Walker, director of SpaceX Dragon mission management, the private company has either launched or landed a Dragon every month this year except for two.
"We could not be more excited to be here and to be standing on the shoulders of giants with this partnership with NASA," Walker said.