Four astronauts climbed aboard a SpaceX rocket Sunday for a night ride to the International Space Station, although the prospects of good weather were just 50-50 and the company’s leader Elon Musk was sidelined by COVID-19.
The astronauts, NASA’s Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi, are sitting inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for a mission known as Crew-1 where they’ll stay at the International Space Station for six months.
They’ll be taken there by NASA’s private transport services provider SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, and this will be the first operational flight for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
It’ll only be the second time that the Dragon, and its Falcon rocket, have sent people into orbit.
A livestream video Sunday afternoon showed the space explorers smiling as they suited up in their flashy white with black trim SpaceX flight suits and by 4pm said goodbye to their families and headed to the launchpad.
The astronauts are now in their capsule, named Resilience, testing its systems ahead of the launch, which is slated to take place at 7.27pm EST from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
By 6.55pm SpaceX and NASA crews retracted the arm connected to the crew capsule and by 7pm NASA said there is an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions for launch. At 7.30pm stage separation was confirmed.
Astronauts, from left, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi wave to family members as they leave the Operations and Checkout Building for a trip to Launch Pad 39-A and planned liftoff on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule on a six-month mission to the International Space Station on Sunday November 15
Ready to go! The astronauts pictured aboard the Resilience capsule ready to head into space
A view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the company’s Crew Dragon capsule attached, sits on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A Sunday at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Four astronauts will fly on the SpaceX Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station scheduled for launch on later today
Musk disclosed on the eve of the launch that he ‘most likely’ has a moderate case of coronavirus and was forced to quarantine. Still, he was in good spirits on Sunday tweeting ‘Astronaut launch today!’
Musk disclosed on the eve of the launch that he ‘most likely’ has a moderate case of coronavirus, despite mixed results, and was forced to quarantine. He was replaced in his official duties at Kennedy by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell.
‘Game day!’ NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, the crew commander, tweeted Sunday afternoon before suiting up.
Vice President Mike Pence arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center around 6.30pm for the special event.
This will mark only the second time in nearly a decade that astronauts have been rocketed into orbit from the US.
Musk remained upbeat despite not attending the launch in person.
‘Astronaut launch today!’ he tweeted earlier Sunday, adding that he had symptoms last week of a minor cold but currently felt ‘pretty normal.’ Representatives for the California-based SpaceX didn’t respond to queries about his whereabouts.
‘Thanks, Elon! We are ready to serve,’ replied veteran Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
The launch of Noguchi and three Americans – all but one of them former space station residents – comes just three months after a pair of NASA test pilots successfully concluded SpaceX’s first occupied flight of a Dragon crew capsule.
The SpaceX crew members NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi wave as they head to the launchpad of the Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday
The crew is led by NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, an Air Force colonel, pictured above saying goodbye to friends who saw him off at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday
Other crew members include Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi (left), who will become only the third person to rocket into orbit aboard three different kinds of spacecraft
Physicist Shannon Walker pictured waving to friends and family as she headed to the launch pad for take off Sunday afternoon
The crew led by Hopkins, an Air Force colonel, includes physicist Shannon Walker and Navy Cmdr. and rookie astronaut Victor Glover, who will be the first black astronaut to spend an extended amount of time on the space station. Noguchi will become only the third person to rocket into orbit aboard three different kinds of spacecraft.
Glover, who joined the astronaut corps in 2013, will be the first black crew member at the space station. For the past 20 years astronauts have been living at the space station but the extended crew never included a black astronaut until Glover.
However, he won’t be the first black person on the base. Those who preceded him were members of space shuttle crews who briefly stayed there during the station’s construction. NASA has only sent 14 black Americans to space out of a total of more than 300 astronauts, according to the New York Times.
The team of four named their capsule Resilience given all the challenges in 2020, most notably the global pandemic.
The 50-50 forecast focused only on the local weather for the planned 7.27pm liftoff, not the wind or sea conditions all the way up the East Coast or across the North Atlantic to Ireland.
The wind and waves need to be within limits in case something goes wrong during the launch and the capsule needs to make an emergency splashdown.
Vice President Mike Pence shared this snap before landing in Florida for the take-off event
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A on Sunday
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi waves to family members as he leaves the Operations and Checkout Building with fellow crew members for the rocket launch pad on Sunday
Members of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi pose for a photo as the astronauts leave the Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday
A NASA helicopter is seen flying past a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A ahead of takeoff Sunday
Rough seas prompted SpaceX to bump the launch by a day in order for its booster-landing platform to reach its proper position in the Atlantic. The company plans to reuse the first-stage booster for its next crew launch, next spring.
NASA turned to private companies to haul cargo and crews to the space station, following the 2011 retirement of its space shuttles. The space agency will save millions by no longer needing to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules.
NASA’s other crew transport provider, Boeing, has yet to launch astronauts. The company is still working to overcome software problems following last December’s marred space debut of its Starliner capsule.
This is the mockup of the Spacex crew capsule that will hold the astronauts