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SpaceX Launches First All-European Commercial Crew to ISS

SpaceX Launches First All-European Commercial Crew to ISS
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with its Crew Dragon capsule launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Jan. 18. Photographer: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

A SpaceX rocket blasted off Thursday carrying the first all-European commercial crew to the International Space Station, a landmark mission for a region looking to mount a comeback following a series of setbacks.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket topped with its Crew Dragon capsule lifted off at 4:49 p.m. local time from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to a webcast of the mission managed by SpaceX and Axiom Space Inc.

The crew is expected to dock at the orbiting research laboratory, some 250 miles (402 kilometers) above Earth, at roughly 5:15 a.m. New York time on Jan. 20.

The Ax-3 mission is Axiom’s third crewed mission into low-Earth orbit. The Houston-based company is focused on developing private space stations.

Commanding Thursday’s flight is Michael López-Alegría, who led the Ax-1 mission in 2022, Axiom’s first mission to the ISS. Pilot Walter Villadei from the Italian Air Force and mission specialists Marcus Wandt of Sweden and Alper Gezeravci of Turkey will also participate in the two-week mission.

William Gerstenmaier, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, joked with the crew after the launch: “You’re demonstrating the ultimate in reuse: a reused commander, a reused Dragon, and a reused Falcon. Or maybe flight experience is a better word. Enjoy space!”

The launch comes as Europe’s space industry has struggled to get off the ground due to delays. The Ariane 6 rocket, which is four years behind schedule, is expected to blast off this summer, while the Vega-C rocket is set to lift off during the fourth quarter after a mission failure at the end of 2022.

“This year will look much better,” Josef Aschbacher, the director general of the European Space Agency, said last week at an annual press briefing.

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