CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — Turkey’s first astronaut and three other crew members representing Europe were launched from Florida on Thursday on a voyage to the International Space Station in the latest commercially arranged mission from Texas startup Axiom Space.
A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying the Axiom quartet lifted off about an hour before sunset from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, beginning a planned 36-hour flight to the orbiting laboratory.
The launch was shown live on an Axiom-SpaceX joint webcast.
The autonomously operated Crew Dragon was expected to reach the International Space Station (ISS) early on Saturday morning and dock with the outpost orbiting some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth and currently occupied by seven regular crew members.
Live video streamed online by Axiom showed the two-stage 25-story-tall launch vehicle streaking into partly cloudy skies over Florida’s Atlantic coast atop a fiery, yellowish tail of exhaust.
Cameras inside the crew compartment beamed footage of the four men strapped into their pressurised cabin, seated calmly in helmeted white-and-black flight suits as the rocket soared toward space.
Nine minutes after launch, the rocket’s upper stage delivered the crew capsule to its preliminary orbit, according to launch commentators.
Meanwhile, the rocket’s reusable lower stage, having detached from the rest of the spacecraft, flew itself back to Earth and safely touched down on a landing zone near the launch site.
The mission was the third such flight organised by Houston-based Axiom over the past two years as the company builds on its business of putting astronauts sponsored by foreign governments and private enterprise into Earth orbit.
The company charges its customers at least US$55 million for each astronaut seat. — Reuters