SpaceX and Nasa launch four astronauts to the International Space Station

16 November 2020, 07:35 | Updated: 16 November 2020, 09:02

Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

A SpaceX rocket has launched four astronauts to the International Space Station in a new wave of privately-funded Nasa missions.

The Falcon rocket thundered into the night from Kennedy Space Centre carrying the second crew to be launched by SpaceX.

A SpaceX rocket carrying four astronauts launched on Monday
A SpaceX rocket carrying four astronauts launched on Monday. Picture: PA Images

The Dragon capsule on top - nicknamed Resilience by its crew in light of this year's many challenges - is due to reach the space station early on Tuesday morning (UK time) and remain there until spring.

Nasa astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi, took off at 12.27am on Monday.

(Left to right) Astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi
(Left to right) Astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi. Picture: PA Images
Nasa staff nervously await the rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Centre
Nasa staff nervously await the rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Centre. Picture: PA Images

Sidelined by Covid-19, SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk was forced to watch the action in self-isolation after tweeting that he "most likely" had a moderate case of the virus.

The flight to the space station - 27.5 hours door to door in total - should be entirely automated, although the crew can take control if needed.

The crew nicknamed the rocket capsule Resilience after a year of challenges
The crew nicknamed the rocket capsule Resilience after a year of challenges. Picture: PA Images
The Falcon rocket took off from the Kennedy Space Centre at 12.27am (UK time)
The Falcon rocket took off from the Kennedy Space Centre at 12.27am (UK time). Picture: PA Images

US Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the National Space Council, travelled from Washington to watch the launch.

"I didn't start breathing until about a minute after it took off," Mr Pence said during a stop at SpaceX Launch Control to congratulate the workers.

The four astronauts will be joining two Russians and one American who flew to the space station last month from Kazakhstan.

Spectators gathered in Florida to watch the SpaceX rocket launch
Spectators gathered in Florida to watch the SpaceX rocket launch. Picture: PA Images
An Nasa illustration on the shows the SpaceX rocket's mission in stages
An Nasa illustration on the shows the SpaceX rocket's mission in stages. Picture: PA Images

The space station soared over the launch site a mere half-minute before liftoff.

The first-stage booster is expected to be recycled by SpaceX for the next crew launch.

That is currently targeted for the end of March, which would set up the newly launched astronauts for a return to Earth in April.