Crew-3 launch
A SpaceX Falcon 9 illuminates the Kennedy Space Center shortly after liftoff on the Crew-3 mission Nov. 10. Credit: NASA TV

Updated at 11 p.m. Eastern with comments from post-launch press conference.

WASHINGTON — Four NASA astronauts are on their way to the International Space Station after SpaceX’s fifth crewed launch in less than 18 months Nov. 10.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:03 p.m. Eastern, placing the Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance into orbit 12 minutes later. SpaceX reported no issues during the countdown, and light rain earlier in the day at the center cleared ahead of the launch.

The rocket’s first stage, which previously launched the CRS-22 cargo mission in June, landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Tonight we had a perfect launch,” Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager, said at a press conference an hour after liftoff. “The vehicle is doing really well.”

Endurance, on its first trip to orbit, is flying the Crew-3 mission for NASA, transporting NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, to the International Space Station. Docking is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. Eastern Nov. 11.

A combination of poor weather, both at the launch site and abort locations in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as an unspecified “minor medical issue” with one of the four astronauts postponed the launch from Oct. 31, forcing NASA to bring back the four Crew-2 astronauts first. Their Crew Dragon splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico nearly 48 hours before the Crew-3 launch.

“Sometimes when you try to fly on Halloween you get a trick instead of a treat, but how honored and appropriate to get to fly Endurance on Veterans Day. We’re proud and honored to get to represent the SpaceX and NASA teams to head to the ISS to live and work on groundbreaking science for the next six months,” Chari said during the final minutes of the countdown.

“We had a little bit of a curveball that we had to work through,” Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations, said of those delays at the post-launch press conference. “The team carefully assessed and restructured the plan and worked out the different options for Crew-2 and Crew-3, and switched it around.”

The launch is the first flight to space for Chari, the mission’s commander, as well as mission specialists Barron and Maurer. Marshburn, Crew-3 pilot, is making his third flight, having previously been on the STS-127 shuttle mission in 2009 and the Expedition 34/35 crews of the ISS for a five-month stay in 2012 and 2013.

By NASA’s accounting, Chari, Maurer and Barron are the 599th, 600th and 601st people, respectively, to go to space.

This launch marks the fifth crewed spaceflight by SpaceX, dating back to the Demo-2 commercial crew test flight that launched in May 2020. SpaceX has since launched the Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions for NASA in November 2020 and April 2021. It also launched its first non-NASA crewed mission, the three-day Inspiration4 flight, in September 2021.

The launch was also the first for SpaceX since Inspiration4 nearly two months ago, an unusually long gap for the company. After a frenetic pace of 20 launches in the first half of 2021, the company has performed only four launches since, including Crew-3. Another Falcon 9 launch, carrying a set of Starlink satellites, is scheduled from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Nov. 12.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...