SpaceX launches crew of four astronauts on flight to International Space Station

A SpaceX rocket carried four astronauts into orbit on Wednesday night, including the 600th person to reach space in 60 years.

he repeatedly delayed flight occurred just two days after SpaceX brought four other astronauts home from the International Space Station.

They should have been up there to welcome the newcomers, but Nasa and SpaceX decided to switch the order based on Monday’s ideal recovery weather in the Gulf of Mexico and pulled it off.

“It was a great ride, better than we imagined,” mission commander Raja Chari said shortly after the spacecraft reached orbit.

The launch was just as riveting for spectators at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre, as well as along the East Coast, as the Falcon rocket thundered through clouds on its way to space.

Germany’s Matthias Maurer claimed the 600th position, according to Nasa, based on his mission assignment.

He and his three Nasa crewmates should arrive at the space station in under 24 hours, well over a week late.

One of the astronauts – Nasa isn’t saying which one – was sidelined last week by an undisclosed medical issue.

The crew member is fully recovered, according to Nasa.

Officials won’t say whether it was an illness or injury, but noted it wasn’t Covid-19.

Bad weather also contributed to their flight delays. Mr Chari said trying to launch on Halloween left them with “a trick instead of a treat”.

It was also drizzling on Wednesday night when the four astronauts said goodbye to their families for six months but it cleared up by launch time. “Enjoy your holidays among the stars. We’ll be waving as you fly by,” SpaceX launch director Mark Soltys radioed to the crew.

The list of 600 travellers ranges from those who have barely scratched space – like actor William Shatner last month – to US and Russian astronauts who have spent a year or more in orbit.

This year’s surge in space tourists helped push the tally over the 600 mark.

That averages out to 10 people per year since Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering flight in 1961, Mr Maurer noted.

“But I think in a very few years, we will see an exponential rise of that one because now we’re entering the era of commercial spaceflight,” he said after arriving at Kennedy Space Centre two weeks ago.

The crew launch marked SpaceX’s fourth for Nasa and the company’s fifth passenger flight overall.
As of Wednesday, Elon Musk’s company has launched 18 people in 18 months.

“Human spaceflight was the reason we were founded, so it’s incredibly meaningful for the whole team,” said Sarah Walker, a SpaceX manager.

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