SPACE

All systems go: SpaceX blasts off for historic voyage to ISS

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule, is launched carrying four astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule, is launched carrying four astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. REUTERS - THOM BAUR

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and three crewmates have blasted off aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule for a six-month stay at the International Space Station.

Advertising

The European Space Agency veteran joins two Nasa astronauts – mission commander Shane Kimbrough and pilot Megan McArthur – along with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide for a 24-hour ride to the ISS, which orbits some 400 kilometres above Earth.

The launch, from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, follows a decade-long hiatus of Nasa’s Space Shuttle programme, during which astronauts were forced to hitch rides aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in order to reach the ISS.

This time round, the crew is being propelled into orbit – at 11:49 am Paris time – by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster that has been recycled from a previous spaceflight, an historic first.

Wearing their custom white flight suits and black boots, the astronauts waved goodbye as they left the space centre’s operations building three hours ahead of the Alpha mission's launch.

French first

Pesquet, who is travelling to the ISS for the second time, will become the first French astronaut to serve as an ISS commander – an important role that makes him responsible for both the safety of the crew and the space station.

“It's like a ship,” Pesquet told RFI last month. “After God, there is only one master on board.”

More than a hundred scientific experiments await Pesquet aboard the ISS, a unique microgravity research lab. Four spacewalks are also scheduled, including one to install new solar panels.

The “Crew-2” team will take over from the four Crew-1 astronauts, who have spent the last six months on the ISS and are scheduled to return to Earth on 28 April.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning