Skies clear in time for Crew-3 launch; 4 astronauts blast off to space station

Four astronauts are headed to the International Space Station following a bright Wednesday evening launch from Kennedy Space Center.

After several days of delays and an afternoon of rain, the Crew-3 mission lifted off on time just after 9 p.m., the Falcon 9 rocket cutting through the broken clouds before finally disappearing for good and leaving only a lingering rumble rolling across the Florida coast.

While the booster landed safely at sea a few minutes later, the Dragon capsule – dubbed ‘Endurance’ by the crew – continued into orbit ahead of a planned Thursday evening docking with the space station.

Crew-3 launch

The Falcon 9 rocket lifts off.

Their arrival will bring the station’s compliment back up to seven. Two cosmonauts and an astronaut have had the entire station to themselves since the Crew-2 astronauts returned to Earth earlier this week.

Normally, NASA likes the outgoing crew to spend a few days handing things off to the new crew, but a combination of weather and health delays for the Crew-3 mission kept them grounded past the end of the Crew-2 mission. This will be the first time NASA will do an ‘indirect handover’ aboard the station.

The Crew 3 astronauts arrive at Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 26, 2021 (NASA photo)

Three of the four astronauts – NASA’s Raja Chari and Kayla Barron, along with ESA’s Matthias Maurer – are making their first flight to space. Tom Marshburn, who’s flown on the space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz, rounds out the crew.

They’re flying in a brand-new SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which gave them the privilege of coming up with a name. ‘Endurance’ works on many levels, Chari explained last month.

"[It’s] a tribute to the tenacity of human spirit as we push humans and machines farther than we ever have," said Chari, the mission commander.  "Also a nod to the fact that the development teams, the production teams, the training teams that got us here have endured through a pandemic."

The liftoff is reflected in the calm waters of NASA's turning basin.

The name also follows the tradition of honoring vessels of exploration – in this case, the ship used by Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The three-masted vessel sank in 1915 after being bound in ice before reaching Antarctica.

Endurance joins Endeavour and Resilience in SpaceX’s fleet of reusable space taxis.

The launch marks the shortest turnaround between the end of one mission and the launch of another, NASA noted. And the busy pace at Cape Canaveral continues.

While the crew blasted off from NASA’s historic Launch Pad 39A, just a few miles away, another Falcon 9 rocket sat poised and ready to go. SpaceX plans to launch the next round of its Starlink internet satellites from nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Base as soon as Friday.

Launch photos & videos

An osprey keeps watch from atop the countdown clock flagpole at the press site.

The astronauts' Teslas speed past the VAB on the way to the launch pad.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9.

A photographer is silhouetted by the launch as the sky lights up.

The Falcon 9 climbs away from the pad.

Moment after launch, the rocket nears the low clouds.

The Falcon 9's plume is visible through a hole in the clouds.

A time-lapsed view of the SpaceX Crew-3 launch from Kennedy Space Center.