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.
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.
Speaking at a news conference, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was a “great day for the United States of America and a great day for Japan.”
Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the National Space Council, 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.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Human Spaceflight Technology Director General Hiroshi Sasaki (JAXA) said he believed the launch would mean “human space activities will expand from the ISS (International Space Station) to the moon.”
The launch 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.