After flying four astronauts into orbit, SpaceX makes its 101st straight landing

Zoom in / The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew-6 mission enters orbit Thursday morning.

Trevor Mahlmann

A Falcon 9 rocket blasted into the starry sky above Florida early Thursday morning, sending four astronauts safely on their way to low Earth orbit.

This mission, performed by SpaceX for NASA, will deliver astronauts to the International Space Station after a 24.5-hour flight to synchronize with the orbiting laboratory. During this time, under nominal operations, the Dragon will fly completely autonomously.

SpaceX is making the sixth operational human spaceflight for NASA, and thus this mission is called Crew-6. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket, shiny and clean on the launch pad, was actually flying its first mission, but the Dragon spacecraft is making its fourth total flight, the most times any Crew Dragon vehicle has flown into space. Formerly this Dragon, named Tryflew NASA’s Demo-2 and Crew-2 missions, as well as Axiom Space’s private Ax-1 spaceflight to and from the International Space Station.

The perfect takeoff came after that rocket was launched two days earlier, on February 27, with just two minutes left on the countdown due to a problem with the ignition system. NASA and SpaceX traced the problem to a clogged filter in the ground systems that support the rocket up until launch. Because of this problematic filter, the proper amount of TEA-TEB, a liquid used to ignite the rocket’s Merlin 1D engines, was not reaching the vehicle’s first stage. SpaceX replaced the filter and restarted the countdown.

Thursday morning’s flight carried NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen, the mission commander, and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, its pilot, along with United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, and the two mission specialists.

Shortly before launch, Bowen offered these words to the SpaceX launch team: “Once again in the breach, dear friends. Crew-6 is ready for launch.” Bowen quoted from Shakespeare’s Henry V.

After the Falcon 9 rocket separated — with the second stage and Dragon moving toward orbit — the first stage burned back toward Earth. A few minutes later he did a bullseye that landed on Just read the Instructions drone ship.

Once in orbit, Homburg was clearly excited about the experience he had just experienced in heartbeats. “As a rookie, it was a good ride, thank you,” he radioed to SpaceX’s flight control center. “I would say this is an absolute marvel of engineering and I just feel so lucky to be flying this amazing machine.”

Just over seven years have passed since the Falcon 9 rocket made its first successful landing on Earth. This was just the 20th launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Monday morning’s launch was the rocket’s 207th flight overall. For a while after that first landing, SpaceX had several setbacks as it continued to experiment with landing on a drone ship, as well as enduring a few mishaps.

However, after failing to land a ship drone in February 2021, SpaceX had pulled off 100 consecutive successful booster landings. Monday morning’s return was for the lucky no. 101.

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