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SpaceX's Crew-2 launch lights up the predawn sky with a spectacular show (photos)

SpaceX's Crew-2 mission streaks across the sky, as seen here from Sullivan's Island in South Carolina on April 23, 2021. (Image credit: Kit MacAvoy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

SpaceX lit up the sky with a spectacular rocket show before dawn today (April 23) with a successful Crew-2 astronaut launch to the International Space Station for NASA. 

Riding a Falcon 9 rocket, the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida as the sun slowly crept above the horizon, making for an especially colorful and striking view. 

The mission successfully lifted off at 5:49 a.m. EDT (0949 GMT) from Pad 39A at KSC in Cape Canaveral. Crew-2 launched NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European astronaut Thomas Pesquet to the International Space Station, which they will reach on Saturday (April 24). 

"Predawn launches are always amazing," acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurzcyk said during a live launch webcast. "It was thrilling to see."

Video: Watch SpaceX's Crew-2 astronaut mission launch into space
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SpaceX's Crew-2 astronaut mission for NASA

(Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

And, whether watching from nearby the launch in Florida or even from states like Virginia, skywatchers and space enthusiasts looking up this morning witnessed something truly incredible in the sky. 

Soon after taking off, the rocket and spacecraft could be seen close to the launch site, lighting up the sky next to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy, creating a picturesque sunrise scene. 

Crew-2 launches nearby the VAB at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.  (Image credit: NASA)

Not long after, as the rocket carrying the spacecraft soared higher, people from all along the U.S. East Coast saw the astronauts' capsule streaking across the sky.

Related: SpaceX's Crew-2 astronaut mission in photos

One spectacular view of the launch shows the mission and a surrounding, glowing halo lighting up the sky in the same frame as the "fastest launch coaster,"  at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida, not too far from the launch site. The rollercoaster in the shot appears to be the theme park's new VelociCoaster ride. 

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In this photo, captured from Washington, D.C., you can see the mission in the sky, bright against the early dawn morning. The image shows the mission just to the right of the U.S. Capitol Building.

NASA's Crew-2 mission can be seen from Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2021.  (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Former NASA astronaut and space shuttle commander Pam Melroy, whom President Joe Biden recently nominated for NASA deputy administrator, spotted the launch from Virginia. 

"Beautiful to watch the Crew 2 launch from southern Virginia this morning! Godspeed my friends! #NASA @SpaceX Congratulations all!" Melroy tweeted, along with a photo of her sunrise view. 

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Skywatchers at home captured some incredible views of the launch that show the colors of the night sky turning over to the morning alongside the beauty and intensity of the launch. 

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The European Space Agency (ESA) also captured some striking and colorful views of the launch, showcasing the bright light and plumes of smoke coming from the ascending rocket. 

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A view of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission.

A view of SpaceX's Crew-2 mission. (Image credit: ESA)
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The ESA spotted SpaceX's Crew-2 mission.

The ESA spotted SpaceX's Crew-2 mission. (Image credit: ESA)

Some skywatchers saw an additional, brilliant blossom in the sky soon after launch, when the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage separated. The first stage of the reusable rocket landed successfully on the SpaceX drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You," which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean to meet the booster.

The first stage (above) separated from the Falcon 9 rocket during SpaceX's Crew-2 launch on April 23, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

About 23 hours after launch, the four astronauts will dock with the orbiting lab on Saturday (April 24) and stay for about six and a half months. 

The astronauts who flew to the station with SpaceX's Crew-1 mission will meet the new crew, and for a few short days 11 astronauts will be living together on the space station. In fact, there will be so many people on board that two members of the crew will have to sleep in the two Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be docked to the space station. 

Editor's note: If you captured a stunning photo of SpaceX's Crew-2 launch, let us know! You can send in photos and comments to spacephotos@space.com.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Chelsea Gohd

Chelsea Gohd joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2018 and returned as a Staff Writer in 2019. After receiving a B.S. in Public Health, she worked as a science communicator at the American Museum of Natural History and even wrote an installation for the museum's permanent Hall of Meteorites. Chelsea has written for publications including Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine, Live Science, All That is Interesting, AMNH Microbe Mondays blog, The Daily Targum and Roaring Earth. When not writing, reading or following the latest space and science discoveries, Chelsea is writing music and performing as her alter ego Foxanne (@foxannemusic). You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd.