Four astronauts, three Americans and one from Japan, are on their way to the International Space Station courtesy of the first operational manned launch by a private company. The four occupants of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, named Resilience, rode a perfect launch from the Kennedy Space Center early Sunday evening after sitting out a one-day weather delay. The postponement set the launch to almost coincide with the ISS’s orbit over the Cape. After about 8.5 minutes, the capsule safely reached orbit and will chase down the space station until about 10:30 p.m. Eastern on Monday. The first-stage booster was recovered safely on a barge off the coast. If all goes according to plan, all four astronauts will be passengers but they can take over from the autonomous system if necessary.
The launch marks the U.S.’s return to manned orbital launches, almost 10 years after the Space Shuttle program ended. The capsule’s name of Resilience is in response to the extra challenges prompted by the pandemic. SpaceX founder Elon Musk was in isolation with a “moderate” case of COVID-19 and couldn’t attend. Everyone involved in the launch followed strict virus protocols. “By working together through these difficult times, you’ve inspired the nation, the world, and in no small part the name of this incredible vehicle, Resilience,” Commander Mike Hopkins said right before liftoff.