MARCIA DAN

CAPE CANAVER, Florida (AP) – SpaceX launched four astronauts on the International Space Station for NASA on Wednesday, less than two days after the completion of a flight chartered by millionaires.

This is the first NASA crew, which consists equally of men and women, including the first black woman to make a long-term space flight, Jessica Watkins.

“I think it’s one of the most diverse crews we’ve had in a very, very long time,” said NASA space operations chief Katie Luders.

The astronauts arrived at the space station on Wednesday night, just 16 hours after taking off from the Kennedy Space Center, which shocked spectators.

“Anyone who saw it understood what a beautiful launch it was,” Luders told reporters. After an express flight comparable to a trip from New York to Singapore, the crew will move on for a five-month stay.

Now SpaceX has launched five crews for NASA and two private trips in just under two years. Ilona Maska’s company has a particularly busy few weeks: she has just finished transporting three businessmen to and from the space station as NASA’s first private guests.

A week after the arrival of the new crew, the three Americans and Germans they will replace will return to Earth in their own SpaceX capsule. Three Russians also live on the space station.

Both SpaceX and NASA stressed that they are taking steps step by step to ensure safety. They said the private mission, which ended on Monday, did not face serious problems, although strong winds delayed the influx for a week.

SpaceX Launch Control wished the astronauts success and Godspeed minutes before the Falcon rocket exploded with a capsule the crew named Freedom.

“Sincere thanks to each of you who made this possible. And now let the Falcon roar and Freedom ring, ”NASA astronaut Kiel Lindgren, commander, said on the radio. A few minutes later, their recycled launch vehicle landed on an ocean platform, and their capsule rotated safely around the Earth. “It was a great trip,” he said.

SpaceX capsules are fully automated – opening the space gates to a wider clientele – and they are designed to accommodate a wider range of body sizes. At the same time, NASA and the European Space Agency are seeking more female astronauts.

While two black women visited the space station during the shuttle era, neither of them moved for long. Watkins, a geologist shortlisted by NASA for a mission to land on the moon in the coming years, considers his mission “an important milestone, I think, for both the agency and the country.”

She believes they support the family and teachers – including May Jamison, the first black woman in space in 1992 – for “eventually being able to make their dream come true.”

Watkins was also encouraged by another geologist, Harrison Schmidt of Apollo 17, who was on the moon in 1972. She invited a retired astronaut to launch along with his wife. “We kind of consider ourselves Jessica’s team,” he said, smiling.

“Those of us who rode Saturn V into space are a little tired of smaller rockets,” Schmidt said after the SpaceX takeoff. “But still, it really was something, and there was a geologist on board … I hope it helps her be part of one of Artemis’ crews going to the moon.”

Like Watkins, NASA astronaut and test pilot Bob Hines is making his first space flight. This is the second visit for Dr. Lindgren and the single female astronaut of the European Space Agency Samantha Cristoforetti, a former fighter pilot of the Italian Air Force.

Christopher was 45 years old on Tuesday, “so she is really celebrating and very happy with a big smile in the capsule,” said European Space Agency Director-General Josef Ashbacher. “She’s really a role model, and she’s doing an extremely wonderful job at it.”

The just-completed private flight was NASA’s first dive into space tourism after years of confrontation. The space agency said the three people, who paid $ 55 million each for visiting the space station, mingled during experiments and educational activities. They were accompanied by a former NASA astronaut who worked at Houston’s Axiom Space, which organized the flight.

“The International Space Station is not a place of rest. This is not an amusement park. This is an international laboratory, and they absolutely understood and respected this goal, ”said NASA Flight Director Zeb Scaville.

NASA also hired Boeing to transport the astronauts after the shuttles were retired. The company will make another shot next month to deliver an empty crew capsule to the space station, after software and other issues disrupted a test flight in 2019 and prevented it from repeating it last summer.

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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