The first all-European commercial crew has launched safely from the Kennedy Space Center and is now on its way to the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the four-person crew for Axiom Space’s Axiom-3 mission blasted off the launchpad just before 4:50 p.m. ET (1:50 p.m. ET) on Thursday before climbing rapidly to orbit. Here’s some footage and images of the rocket heading to space:
Liftoff from pad 39A in Florida pic.twitter.com/Pojfp5JVXJ
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 19, 2024
About eight minutes after launch, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage, on its fifth mission, made a perfect upright landing back at Kennedy, paving the way for a sixth flight in the coming weeks or months.
The launch was originally planned for Wednesday, but the mission operators decided to hold off for 24 hours earlier that day to conduct more pre-launch checks.
The crew members for this mission comprise commander Michael López-Alegría, pilot Walter Villadei of Italy, mission specialist Alper Gezeravcı of Turkey, and ESA (European Space Agency) project astronaut Marcus Wandt of Sweden.
They’re scheduled to arrive at the orbital outpost at 5:15 a.m. ET (2:15 a.m. PT) on Saturday, January 20, and will spend around two weeks living alongside the current ISS crew of seven, carrying out science and research in microgravity conditions. They’ll then return to Earth aboard their Crew Dragon, a spacecraft that previously flew Crew-4 and Ax-2 to and from the space station.
NASA chief Bill Nelson congratulated SpaceX and Axiom Space for achieving a successful launch, adding: “Together with our commercial partners, NASA is supporting a growing commercial space economy and the future of space technology.
“During their time aboard the International Space Station, the Ax-3 astronauts will carry out more than 30 scientific experiments that will help advance research in low-Earth orbit. As the first all-European commercial astronaut mission to the space station, the Ax-3 crew is proof that the possibility of space unites us all.”
The Axiom-3 mission is organized by Texas-based Axiom Space and is its third private voyage to the space station. The first one took place in April 2022. The company partnered with NASA to organize commercial missions to low-Earth orbit. It’s also aiming to build a commercial space station that could one day replace the ISS when it’s decommissioned in 2031.
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