SpaceX launched four astronauts from Florida to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday evening as the company conducts a steady pace of manned missions.
NASA’s mission known as Crew-3 will bring the quartet to the ISS for a six-month stay in orbit of the research laboratory. SpaceX launched the astronauts in its Crew Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket.
“It was a great ride – better than we imagined,” said Raja Chari, NASA astronaut and Crew Dragon commander, after mission control started.
The launch marks SpaceX’s third operational crew launch to date for NASA and the first through the latest addition to their Crew Dragon capsules, dubbed Endurance by Crew 3 astronauts. The Crew 3 mission brings the number of astronauts SpaceX launched to 18.
The mission carries three Americans and one German: NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron and the astronaut from the European Space Agency, Matthias Maurer. This is the first space flight for three crew members: Chari, Barron and Maurer.
SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon spacecraft and refined its Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which provided the company with $ 3.1 billion to develop the system and launch six operational missions.
Commercial Crew is a competitive program, and NASA has also awarded Boeing $ 4.8 billion in contracts to develop its Starliner spacecraft. However, the Boeing capsule is in development due to an unmanned flight test in December 2019 that presented significant challenges.
Crew-3 marks the third of these six missions for SpaceX, with NASA now benefiting from the company’s investments in spacecraft development.
NASA emphasizes that SpaceX offers the agency a cost-saving option in addition to the ability to send astronauts into space. The agency expects to pay $ 55 million per astronaut who flies on Crew Dragon, as opposed to $ 86 million per astronaut who flies a Russian spaceship. NASA estimated last year that the agency saved between $ 20 billion and $ 30 billion in development costs by competing between two private companies for contracts.
Endurance is a new Crew Dragon capsule that is debuting for this mission. Previously, the capsules Resilience and Endeavor have flown astronauts, and SpaceX expects to add a fourth Crew Dragon early next year.