A SpaceX rocket carried four astronauts toward orbit Wednesday night, including the 600th person to reach space in 60 years.
The repeatedly delayed flight occurred just two days after SpaceX brought four other astronauts home from the International Space Station.
Germany’s Matthias Maurer claimed the No 600 position, according to Nasa, based on his mission assignment. He and his three Nasa crewmates should arrive at the space station in under 24 hours, well over a week late.
An undisclosed astronaut was sidelined last week by a medical issue. The crew member is fully recovered, according to Nasa. Officials won’t say whether it was an illness or injury, but noted it wasn’t Covid-19. Bad weather also contributed to their flight delays.
Wednesday’s night it was drizzling when the four astronauts said goodbye to their families, with umbrellas held over them. Forecasters promised the weather would improve and it did.
The list of 600 travelers ranges from those who have barely scratched space, such as actor William Shatner last month, to US and Russian astronauts who have spent a year or more in orbit. This year’s surge in space tourists helped push the tally over the 600 mark.
The crew launch marked SpaceX’s fourth for Nasa in one and a half years and the company’s fifth passenger flight overall, a charter flight for four that skipped the space station. The Dragon capsule’s toilet leaked during their three days in orbit in September, necessitating a quick redesign of the flushing system in the newest capsule, named Endurance by its crew.
A balky parachute during Monday’s descent had SpaceX engineers poring over the data, before giving the go-ahead for Wednesday’s launch. One of the four chutes opened more than a minute late, a problem seen in testing and well within safety limits, SpaceX officials said Tuesday.
Also on board are Air Force Col Raja Chari, 44, the first space rookie in decades to lead a mission to orbit for Nasa; Dr Thomas Marshburn, 61, the oldest person to live aboard the space station and perform a spacewalk; and Kayla Barron, 34, a Navy lieutenant commander from Richland, Washington.
During their six-month station stay, they will welcome two groups of tourists. A Russian film crew recently spent two weeks at the station, making a movie.
“Nasa and SpaceX are lighting a big candle in the sky for you tonight,” Nasa tweeted before the launch.