Four astronauts from the US and Japan are on their way to a six month stay at the International Space Station.
The three NASA astronauts and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are heading to the ISS aboard a Crew Dragon capsule from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company that was launched with a Falcon 9 rocket.
The crew looked in good spirits prior to launch, posing for a photo with outgoing NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
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Similar to Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley when they first rode a SpaceX capsule to the station as part of a “demonstration” mission in May, the astronauts were taken to the launch pad in cars from another Elon Musk company, Tesla.
The cars had the licence plate “L8RERTH” (as in “see you later, Earth”).
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Monday’s launch is the first “operational” launch SpaceX will conduct, taking the lead as NASA watches over its shoulder.
NASA began collaborating with SpaceX as part of a broader program that will allow private companies to play a role in space exploration alongside the agency.
Before May’s demonstration, NASA had been purchasing seats on Russian rockets to get astronauts to the ISS, an increasingly expensive arrangement the commercialisation of the space program is partially designed to circumvent.
An earlier attempt at the launch was called off last week due to heavy winds and there was only a short window to launch again due to the ISS’ orbit of Earth.
Mr Bridenstine announced this morning the weather was more favourable today.
There was brief concern about the hatch on the module’s seal but at 11.27am on Monday morning the rocket took off without issue.
It has since separated from the Crew Dragon capsule.
On-board the capsule are NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
Mr Noguchi has become only the third person to leave Earth in three different types of vehicle, having previously flown on a shuttle and a Russian Soyuz rocket.
Mr Glover will be the first African-American astronaut to spend an extended period of time on the ISS.
NASA’s Kate Rubins and the Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov are already on board the ISS and awaiting their arrival.
The Crew Dragon module is expected dock with the ISS at around 3pm on Tuesday (AEDT).