SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station on Sunday on the first full-fledged taxi flight for NASA by a private company. The Falcon rocket thundered into the night from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral with three Americans and one Japanese national, the second crew to be launched by SpaceX. The Dragon capsule on top—named Resilience by its crew in light of this year’s many challenges, most notably COVID-19—reached orbit nine minutes later. It is due to reach the space station late Monday and remain there until spring, the AP reports. Sidelined by the coronavirus himself, SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk was forced to monitor the action from afar. He tweeted that he “most likely” had a moderate case of COVID-19.
Sunday’s launch follows by just a few months SpaceX’s two-pilot test flight. It kicks off what NASA hopes will be a long series of crew rotations between the US and the space station, after years of delay. More people means more science research at the orbiting lab, according to officials. Cheers and applause erupted at SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., after the capsule reached orbit and the first-stage booster landed on a floating platform in the Atlantic. Musk tweeted a single red heart. Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the National Space Council, traveled from Washington and joined NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to watch the launch. “I didn’t start breathing until about a minute after it took off,” Pence said during a stop at SpaceX Launch Control to congratulate the workers. (More here, including the coronavirus precautions taken.)