SpaceX launches Crew-5 astronauts on historic flight to space station for NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX's groundbreaking Crew-5 mission is on its way to the International Space Station (ISS).

A Dragon capsule carrying the four Crew-5 astronauts lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from historic Launch Pad 39A here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center today (Oct. 5) at noon EDT (1600 GMT), kicking off a roughly 29-hour journey to the orbiting lab.

Those four spaceflyers are NASA's Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and cosmonaut Anna Kikina. Today's liftoff made Mann the first Native American woman to reach the final frontier and Kikina the first Russian to fly on a private American spacecraft.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon Endurance and four astronauts launches the Crew-5 astronaut mission to the International Space Station for NASA from Pad 39A of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 5, 2022. (Image credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

"I am very proud to represent Native Americans and my heritage," Mann said during a press conference on Oct. 1, shortly after the Crew-5 astronauts arrived at KSC. "We're all from very unique, different backgrounds. We all came from different educations and different job specialties. And it's really great to see everyone coming together."

During that same event, Kikina thanked NASA, SpaceX and Russian space officials — everyone who made the Crew-5 mission possible. "We will do our job the best way: happy!" she said.

When T-0 struck on today's instantaneous launch window, the nine Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9's first stage roared to life, lifting the 230-foot-tall (70 meters) rocket off the pad. 

Two minutes and 40 seconds into flight, those engines shut off, and the Falcon 9 upper stage separated from the first-stage booster. Twelve minutes after liftoff, Endurance separated from the upper stage as planned, beginning its long solo chase of the ISS.

"It was a smooth ride, and I see all the three happy faces here, to be back in zero-g," Wakata told mission control just after that milestone occurred. "Thank you so much!"

The Crew-5 astronauts wave as they walk out to their Tesla rides to the launch pad during SpaceX's launch day for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 5, 2022. (Image credit: NASA Television)

The Falcon 9 first stage was busy after separating from the upper stage: About 9.5 minutes after launch, the booster landed on Just Read the Instructions, a SpaceX droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida Coast.

It was the first-ever landing for this particular booster, which made its spaceflight debut today. The booster gleamed bright-white on the pad before liftoff — a somewhat jarring sight, given that most SpaceX rockets these days are soot-blackened veterans with multiple missions under their belts.

Such reuse allows SpaceX to boost its efficiency and achieve remarkable launch cadences; Crew-5 was the 44th orbital launch of 2022 for Elon Musk's company. And SpaceX has two more liftoffs coming in short order. It plans to launch a big batch of its Starlink internet satellites this afternoon from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and two commercial communications satellites from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Thursday (Oct. 6). 

SpaceX's crewed launches are adding up, too: Crew-5 marks the eighth astronaut mission for the company, with two more scheduled before the end of spring 2023. 

Not all of these flights have been for NASA; SpaceX also launched the orbital tourism missions Inspiration4 and Ax-1 in September 2021 and April of this year, respectively. (In addition to the five contracted flights to the ISS for NASA, SpaceX flew the crewed Demo-2 test mission to the International Space Station for the agency in 2020.)

All of the Crew-5 astronauts are spaceflight rookies except Wakata. Crew-5 marks the fifth time the Japanese astronaut has launched to space, and Endurance is the third crew-rated spacecraft in which he's flown.

"Whew! That was a smooth ride uphill," Mann told mission control shortly after reaching orbit today. 'We've got three rookies who are pretty happy to be in space right now."

Endurance is scheduled to dock with the ISS just before 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) on Thursday. The Crew-5 astronauts will live aboard the orbiting lab for about five months, performing scientific experiments and other tasks as a part of ISS Expedition 68. 

The quartet will be greeted on Thursday by the station's current crew of seven, four of whom are from SpaceX's Crew-4 mission, which is slated to depart the station a few days from now. When Crew-4 leaves, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will hand over command of the ISS to Mann, who will hold the position until the arrival of Crew-6 next spring.

Crew-5 had been scheduled to launch on Monday (Oct. 3), but NASA and SpaceX pushed it back two days as a result of Hurricane Ian. The storm also had an impact on NASA's highly anticipated Artemis 1 moon mission, which had to roll off KSC's Pad 39B to shelter from the storm. Artemis 1 had been targeted to launch on Sept. 27, but NASA is now eyeing a liftoff between Nov. 12 and Nov. 27.

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Contributing Writer

Josh Dinner is a freelance writer, photographer and videographer covering space exploration, human spaceflight and other subjects.  He has covered everything from rocket launches and NASA's Artemis 1 Space Launch System megarocket to SpaceX astronaut launches for NASA. To find out Josh's latest space project, visit his website (opens in new tab) and follow him on Instagram (opens in new tab)and Facebook (opens in new tab).