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SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launches into space

A SpaceX rocket lifted off from Florida on carrying a crew of three US astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) to begin a six-month science mission in Earth orbit.

The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket topped with an autonomously operated Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Endeavor was launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, along Florida’s Atlantic coast, at 10:53 pm local time, just before 4am Irish time.

A live NASA-SpaceX webcast showed the 25-story-tall rocket ship ascending from the launch tower as its nine Merlin engines roared to life in billowing clouds of vapor and a reddish fireball that lit up the night sky.

The four crew members were scheduled to reach the space station early on Tuesday after a 16-hour flight, docking with the orbital laboratory some 420km above Earth.

Designated Crew 8, the mission marks the eighth long-duration ISS team that NASA has flown aboard a SpaceX launch vehicle since the private rocket venture founded in 2002 by billionaire Elon Musk and headquartered near Los Angeles began sending US astronauts to orbit in May 2020.

The latest ISS crew was led by mission commander Matthew Dominick, 42, a US Navy test pilot making his first trip to space, and veteran NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, 64, a physician who has logged two previous flights to the space station and two spacewalks.

Mr Barratt is serving as mission pilot.

Alexander Grebenkin, Michael Barratt, Matthew Dominick and Jeanette Epps

Rounding out the team are fellow NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps, 53, an aerospace engineer and former technical intelligence officer for the CIA, and cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin, 41, a former military aircraft engineer is also on his first trip.

Mr Grebenkin is the latest cosmonaut to fly aboard a US spacecraft under a deal signed in 2022 by NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, despite heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Crew 8 will be welcomed aboard the space station by seven current ISS occupants – three Russians and the four astronauts of Crew 7, two from NASA, one from Japan and one from Denmark.

The Crew 7 team is expected to depart the space station for a flight back to Earth about a week after Crew 8’s arrival.

Crew 8 is expected to remain aboard the space station until the end of August, collectively performing about 250 experiments in the microgravity environment of the orbital platform.

Yesterday, the same launch was delayed due to poor weather.

The ISS, about the length of a football field and the largest human-made object in space, has been continuously operated by a US-Russian-led consortium that includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.

The first hardware for the outpost was launched 25 years ago.

It was conceived in part as a multinational venture designed to improve relations between Washington and Moscow following the Soviet Union’s collapse and the end of Cold War rivalries that gave rise to the original US-Soviet space race in the 1950s and 1960s.

NASA has said it is committed to keeping the space station in operation for at least six more years.

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