A SpaceX Falcon9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule attached, lifts off from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39-A on Sunday night. Photo: AP/John Raoux

SpaceX with Japanese astronaut aboard blasts off for space station


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 with three Americans and one Japanese, 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.

"And Resilience rises ...," a launch commentator announced at liftoff.

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. NASA policy at Kennedy Space Center requires anyone testing positive for coronavirus to quarantine and remain isolated.

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 U.S. and the space station, after years of delay. More people means more science research at the orbiting lab, according to officials.

NASA astronauts, from left, Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Michael Hopkins and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi leave the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to launch pad 39A for the SpaceX Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla, on Sunday. Photo: AP/John Raoux

Cheers and applause erupted at SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, after the capsule reached orbit and the first-stage booster landed on a floating platform in the Atlantic.

Moments before liftoff, Commander Mike Hopkins addressed the employees of NASA and SpaceX.

"By working together through these difficult times, you've inspired the nation, the world, and in no small part the name of this incredible vehicle, Resilience," he said. "And now it's time for us to do our part."

The flight to the space station - 27 1/2 hours door to door - should be entirely automated, although the crew can take control if needed. As the capsule settled into orbit, SpaceX reported pressure pump spikes in the capsule's thermal control system, but flight controllers worked quickly to clear the issue.

With COVID-19 still surging, NASA continued the safety precautions put in place for SpaceX's crew launch in May. The astronauts went into quarantine with their families in October. All launch personnel wore masks, and the number of guests at Kennedy was limited. Even the two astronauts on the first SpaceX crew flight stayed behind at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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.

Outside the space center gates, officials anticipated hundreds of thousands of spectators to jam nearby beaches and towns.

NASA worried a weekend liftoff - coupled with a dramatic nighttime launch - could lead to a superspreader event. They urged the crowds to wear masks and maintain safe distances. Similar pleas for SpaceX's first crew launch on May 30 went unheeded.

The three-men, one-woman crew led by Hopkins, an Air Force colonel, named their capsule Resilience in a nod not only to the pandemic, but also racial injustice and contentious politics. It's about as diverse as space crews come, including physicist Shannon Walker, Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover, the first Black astronaut on a long-term space station mission, and Japan's Soichi Noguchi, who became the first person in almost 40 years to launch on three types of spacecraft.

They rode out to the launch pad in Teslas - another Musk company - after exchanging high-fives and hand embraces with their children and spouses, who huddled at the open car windows. Musk was replaced by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in bidding the astronauts farewell.

Besides its sleek design and high-tech features, the Dragon capsule is quite spacious - it can carry up to seven people. Previous space capsules have launched with no more than three. The extra room in the capsule was used for science experiments and supplies.

The four astronauts will be joining two Russians and one American who flew to the space station last month from Kazakhstan.

The first-stage booster is expected to be recycled by SpaceX for the next crew launch. That's currently targeted for the end of March, which would set up the newly launched astronauts for a return to Earth in April. SpaceX would launch yet another crew in late summer or early fall.

SpaceX and NASA wanted the booster recovered so badly that they delayed the launch attempt by a day, to give the floating platform time to reach its position in the Atlantic over the weekend following rough seas.

Boeing, NASA's other contracted crew transporter, is trailing by a year. A repeat of last December's software-plagued test flight without a crew is off until sometime early next year, with the first astronaut flight of the Starliner capsule not expected before summer.

NASA turned to private companies to haul cargo and crew to the space station, after the shuttle fleet retired in 2011. SpaceX qualified for both. With Kennedy back in astronaut-launching action, NASA can stop buying seats on Russian Soyuz rockets. The last one cost $90 million.

The commander of SpaceX's first crew, Doug Hurley, noted it's not just about saving money or easing the training burdens for crews.

"Bottom line: I think it's just better for us to be flying from the United States if we can do that," he told The Associated Press last week.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Watching the Japanese news, you'd think Noguchi was the only one going up in space.

18 ( +23 / -5 )

No mention of the price tag.


3 ( +12 / -9 )

Wishing them well

-2 ( +10 / -12 )

You can watch it live here


-6 ( +6 / -12 )

Successful launch, well done Elon Musk and TESLA, well done Japan! Hopefully Noguchi-sensei's amazing journey to Space inspires millions of Japanese kids to want to do the same. This proves that humans can do anything!

-8 ( +7 / -15 )


Be nice if such expertise and investment could be put towards poverty, medical services, homelessness etc.

-12 ( +6 / -18 )

WOW! all the negatives!

Kind of makes you wonder about the kind

of people that are out there....

Truly scary!

-9 ( +5 / -14 )


-9 ( +2 / -11 )

No mention of the price tag.

Be nice if such expertise and investment could be put towards poverty, medical services, homelessness etc.

These kinds of missions advance mankind. We should try and solve our earthly problems too, of course, but not at the expense of space missions.

The satellite images and GPS we now take for granted, for example, couldn't have been achieved without these types of missions decades ago. Satellite images and GPS don't just give us Google Maps, they let us track migrating animals, shrinking ice caps, illegal fishing etc. The technology has helped us understand climate change and is vital in combating it.

It's impossible for us to know how the technology being developed for these missions, the experiments being conducted at the space station, and all the science & innovation happening within in the industry today will improve our lives tomorrow, but it will.

The great thing about humanity is people follow their passions, so as a whole we can work on everything. Some people work to help alleviate poverty and homelessness, some volunteer to teach children in Africa, some work to shelter stray animals, and some pick up trash at a local beach. All are important. There's no need to sacrifice space. Let's do it all, and celebrate all of humanity's wins.

-7 ( +4 / -11 )

The new space suits actually look modern and not bulky. The new space capsule is not cramped too, up to 7 people

With more rocket launches, and upcoming Boeing, can get more done in space. And less expensive too - about $50 million per. Plus with the two private companies competing for contracts saved the agency between $20 Billion and $30 Billion in development costs

That extra money frees up to use in other projects, like the moon and mars missions

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

Space suits are actually looking fashionable. Nice to see!

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

WOW! all the negatives!

I did say it's marvellous. I've been fascinated for decades by space travel and the bravery and endurance of those who go up there - never knowing for sure if the mission will be a success. The Right Stuff and recently, First Man are some of my favourite non-fiction films to deal with space exploration.

Kind of makes you wonder about the kind

of people that are out there....

Truly scary!

It's not scary having the opinion that, whilst this is another interesting chapter in the saga, maybe it would be great if an equal amount of money, resources and enthusiasm could be deployed to help those of us on this planet who aren't fortunate enough to have access to things like food, electricity, medicine, clean water etc.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )


Hmm. Looking at the thread again, I wonder if I misread you? Do you mean negativity - as in some of us are not so enthusiastic? Or do you mean negative as in the amount of downvotes?

If it's the latter, then it's still not scary. Although, it would be simply lovely to hear from some of the down crowd, as to why we can't have both space travel and an equal standard of living for everyone.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I fail to understand the negative votes: Our future is in space. We have polluted and overpopulated Earth. There is no serious plan, which must be an internationally agreed plan, to resolve any of those issues.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

To perpetuate mankind at some point we must become a multi-planet species. While the Sun is now in it's main phase and provides the Earth with just the right amount of heat to be habitable, that won't last forever. As the Sun consumes its hydrogen it will slowly heat up and in a few hundred million years the Earth will be too hot for water to exist. In about a billion years the Sun will exit the main phase and balloon into a red giant. It will expand until it's diameter is about as big as Earths orbit. Mercury, Venus and probably Earth will be destroyed and Mars may or may not survive this but if it does it will be scorching hot. At some point Man must master long distance space travel and find ways to inhabit other worlds or it will die off when the Sun makes Earth uninhabitable.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The space suits and interior photos of the crew capsule suggest styling was more important than function. I hope I'm wrong but coming from an aviation background I expect to see functional engineering, not styling for the sake of style. One hopes the styling doesn't interfere with function.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Who's getting all the glory? NASA, Tesla.

Which private company is benefiting in this relationship? Tesla.

Japan ends up with the bill, not enough recognition, not enough technological transfer to Japan.

20 years from now, looking back at this achievement, who will mention Japan's part and role? Maybe in Japan. Don't expect this to matter anywhere else.

It's all about NASA It's all about Tesla.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Based on some of these comments, it needs to be pointed out that SpaceX and Tesla are in fact, different companies. They are both headed by the same extremely high-profile individual, but they are not the same. Even one is private [SpaceX] and one is public [Tesla].

I suppose this speaks to the marketing prowess and brand image of Tesla, but they make electric vehicles. Not rockets.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


Well said!

Missions like these advance humanity in so many ways (including breakthroughs in medical research among many other things).

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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