SpaceX’s meteoric mission to fly 4 astronauts to the space station, in 17 photos and gifs

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The Crew Dragon spaceship approaches the International Space Station on November 16, 2020.
  • SpaceX launched its first full astronaut crew for NASA on Sunday.
  • NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi rocketed to the International Space Station.
  • Their Crew Dragon spaceship docked to the station the next day, kicking off what's expected to be NASA's longest human spaceflight ever.
  • Photos and gifs reveal the anticipation and joy of the Crew-1 mission so far.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

SpaceX has successfully launched four astronauts into Earth's orbit and carried them to the International Space Station in its most ambitious mission yet for NASA.

On Monday night, the company's Crew Dragon spaceship maneuvered into position in front of the ISS, slowly inched forward, then gently bumped into an ISS port and locked itself in. After hours of locking procedures, leak checks, and hatch openings, astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker of NASA, as well as Soichi Noguchi of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, floated into the open arms of their colleagues on the ISS.

The mission, called Crew-1, is the first of six operational astronaut flights that NASA has contracted from SpaceX. Assuming the astronauts stay on the ISS for six months as planned, it will be the longest human spaceflight in US history.

The launch marked the first time the US has used its own human-rated launch system since the Space Shuttles retired in 2011. It was also the first time a commercial entity has accomplished such a feat. In the future, this new era of commercial spaceflight could expand to send astronauts to the moon and Mars, and even bring tourists to space.

"It's not an exaggeration to state that, with this milestone, NASA and SpaceX have changed the historical arc of human space transportation," Phil McAlister, NASA's director of commercial spaceflight development, told reporters. "I believe we are about to see a major expansion in our ability to work, play, and explore space."

Photos and gifs captured the anticipation and joy of the 30-hour journey to the ISS.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket catapulted the Crew Dragon spaceship, carrying four astronauts, into orbit on Sunday.
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SpaceX's Crew Dragon sits atop a Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for the launch of Crew-1 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, November 12, 2020.
Before launch, the astronauts got dressed in their spacesuits and said goodbye to their families. They drove to the launchpad in specialized Teslas.
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Left to right: Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi wave goodbye to family on November 15, 2020.
"The nerves start to really pile on as you get closer to launch," Hopkins told reporters ahead of liftoff. The astronauts had been busy with pre-launch preparations since November 8.
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Mike Hopkins says goodbye to a family member as he leaves for the launchpad, November 15, 2020.
They conducted a dress rehearsal the week prior to make sure everything would run smoothly.
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Norm Knight, deputy director of flight operations at NASA's Johnson Space Center, speaks with Lee Rosen, vice president of mission and launch operations at SpaceX, during a dress rehearsal of the launch, November 12, 2020.

Those preparations went according to plan, but then strong winds forced SpaceX and NASA to delay the launch from Saturday to Sunday.

The astronauts climbed to the top of the rocket and followed a walkway to the Crew Dragon capsule, which they named Resilience.
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Soichi Noguchi waves to the camera at the top of Launchpad 39A.

"It means functioning well in times of stress or overcoming adverse events," Hopkins said of the moniker. "I think all of us can agree that 2020 has certainly been a challenging year. Despite all of that, SpaceX and NASA have kept the production line open and finished this amazing vehicle." 

The astronauts climbed inside the spaceship, then waited for hours as the hatch was sealed, the emergency-abort system was activated, and the rocket was filled with fuel.
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Left to right: Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi wait for lift off, November 15, 2020.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the first people to fly SpaceX's Crew Dragon, told the new crew that there's a distinct rumble once the rocket is full.

"I'm really anxious to feel that vibration," Noguchi told reporters during the week before launch.

At exactly 15 seconds after 7:27 p.m. ET, the rocket roared past the launchpad.
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The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew-1 mission lifts off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, November 15, 2020.

Liftoff was instantaneous — meaning it had to launch at the exact planned second. Otherwise, fuel would start to vent out, leaving room for error.

Mission controllers watched carefully as the Falcon 9 streaked across the sky. If anything went wrong, the Crew Dragon was programmed to jettison away from a failing rocket.
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket streaks toward space after lifting off on November 15, 2020.
Soon, the astronauts were comfortably orbiting Earth. They changed out of their spacesuits and settled in for the night.
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Baby Yoda floats inside Crew Dragon "Resilience" on November 15, 2020.

On the live feed of the Crew Dragon cabin, a stowaway was visible drifting around: A Baby Yoda toy that served as a zero-gravity indicator. Once it began floating, the astronauts knew they were in Earth's orbit.

"The view is beautiful," Hopkins, the mission's commander, told mission controllers on Earth.
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The Resilience capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking, November 16, 2020.

As they came within view of the ISS, Hopkins asked if the crew already on the station could see them waving. A mission controller responded that they were still too far away for that.

"They might be able to see Ike's smile, though, because it hasn't stopped since we've been up here," Hopkins replied.

"Ike" is the crew's nickname for Glover. It stands for "I know everything."

This was Glover's first spaceflight. The others gifted him a gold pin that astronauts receive once they've soared 100 kilometers above the Earth.
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Victor Glover holds up his new gold pin, recognizing his first flight to 1,000 kilometers above Earth, November 16, 2020.

They marked the occasion as they gave a video tour of the Resilience spaceship.

"Every time I do something in space, it will be the first time," Glover told Business Insider ahead of the mission.

The next day, the astronauts put their spacesuits back on as the Resilience capsule approached the ISS. The process was fully automated.
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The Crew Dragon spaceship approaches the International Space Station on November 16, 2020.

But the astronauts were closely watching the flight data, ready to take over if anything went wrong.

Grapple hooks secured the capsule to its port on the ISS at about 11:13 p.m. ET. "Resilience, SpaceX. Docking sequence is complete. Welcome to the ISS," a mission controller told the crew.
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The Resilience capsule docks to the International Space Station, November 16, 2020.

"Excellent job, right down the center," Hopkins responded. "SpaceX and NASA, congratulations: This is a new era of operational flights to the International Space Station from the Florida coast."

After that, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins spent two hours pressurizing the passage into the ISS, checking for leaks, and opening hatches.

 

"There appear to be four smiling crew members on the other side," Rubins said as she prepared to open the final hatch.

Nearly 30 hours after they launched, the Crew-1 astronauts floated onto the space station.

 

They officially entered at 1:02 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov greeted them with open arms.

 

Noguchi brought Baby Yoda in with him. 

The Crew-1 astronauts are now poised to spend six months on the ISS, where they will help expand NASA's space-science capabilities.
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(Front row from left) Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi are welcomed onto the ISS by (back row from left) NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.

Crew-1 aims to conduct a variety of research, including studying how the body responds to eating certain foods in microgravity and the effect spaceflight has on astronaut brains. The crew will also experiment with tissue chipsplant growing, and even part of a new spacesuit designed for the moon and Mars.

"We are ready for the six months of work that is waiting for us on board the International Space Station, and we are ready for the return," Hopkins said before the flight.

Dave Mosher contributed reporting.

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