Cheering and applause thundered at Mission Control in Cape Canaveral as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and its Freedom space capsule lifted flawlessly early Wednesday morning, piercing the dark night sky with a stream of light.
Sixteen hours later, Freedom docked with the International Space Station on a mission that will make history.
The Dragon spacecraft was launched from the Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A at 3:52 a.m. Eastern time and arrived with the Crew-4 astronauts at the space station at 7:37 p.m. Eastern time (4:37 p.m. Pacific).
A large chorus of voices joined an announcer in the final countdown before the launch, and when Falcon 9 lifted off, the crowd cheered enthusiastically. Around a minute later, the rocket broke the sound barrier.
The flight brought the crew of three Americans and one Italian to the ISS, where America’s Jessica Watkins will become the first black woman to complete a long-term mission at the space station. The crew is scheduled to return to Earth no sooner than September, according to SpaceX.
In addition to being an astronaut, Dr. Watkins is a geologist, aquanaut and a former international rugby player.
The crew also features two other Americans — Dr. Kjell Lindgren, who’s board-certified in emergency medicine and is NASA’s SpaceX mission commander — and mission pilot Bob Hines, who served more than 21 years in the U.S. Air Force as a fighter pilot, instructor pilot and test pilot.
Samantha Cristoforetti, the Italian member of the crew, is the astronaut representing the European Space Agency.
She is the commander of the Minerva mission aboard the International Space Station, where the crew is slated to conduct more than 200 science experiments in areas such as material sciences, health technologies and plant science.
“Teamwork makes the dream work!” Dr. Lindgren posted in a tweet before Wednesday’s launch.