Nasa SpaceX launch: who are the astronauts in the crew, when will the rocket land on the ISS - and what does it mean for space travel?

The mission is the first operational flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon programme to the International Space Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on November 15 (Photo: GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images)
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on November 15 (Photo: GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images)

The latest SpaceX launch has departed the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX, the American aerospace company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, once again provided the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule – used to transport the astronauts – to NASA.

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The US space agency says it is entering a new era in which routine astronaut journeys to low-Earth orbit are conducted by commercial providers.

(L-R) NASA astronauts, mission specialist Shannon Walker, vehicle pilot Victor Glover, commander Mike Hopkins, and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) (Photo: Red Huber/Getty Images)

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Here is everything you need to know about it.

How does the mission work?

The mission is the first operational flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon programme to the International Space Station, following Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley’s successful ‘demo’ flight in May.

The crew left the pad at the Kennedy Space Centre at 12.27am on Monday 16 November. Their journey to the ISS will take just over a day, with docking expected to take place around 4am on 17 November.

The crew will stay on the ISS for six months, and will return to Earth after being joined by another SpaceX-launched crew for a brief handover.

The next Spacex-launched crew is scheduled for liftoff on 30 March 2021.

Who are the astronauts in the crew?

The four-man crew includes three Americans and a highly experienced astronaut from the Japanese space agency (Jaxa).

Americans Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker are joined by Japan’s Soichi Noguchi.

Michael "Mike” Hopkins has visited the ISS before, having made his first spaceflight as a Flight Engineer in September 2013; he was onboard the space station for six months.

Mission specialist Shannon Walker is also making her return to the ISS, having spent over 163 days in space in June 2010.

When the current crew of the space station departs in April 2021, Shannon will take over as Commander, only the third woman in history to hold that position.

44-year old Victor Glover from California is travelling to space for the first time, serving as Pilot and making history as the first African-American astronaut to stay on a long duration mission to the ISS.

Japan’s Soichi Noguchi is flying to space for the third time, having previously flown in 2005 and 2010.

His long space-faring career means he is only the third person in history to leave Earth in three different types of space vehicle.

What will they do in space?

The crew will join Nasa's Kate Rubins and Russian space agency (Roscosmos) cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov onboard the space station when the dock on

In the first instance, the crew will make up part of Expedition 64.

As part of that expedition, work is planned for activating ‘Bartolomeo’, a package of scientific equipment located on the outside of the ISS’ Columbus laboratory module.

With seven astronauts aboard the station (which orbits Earth at over 250 miles an hour), the amount of experiments that can be performed in its microgravity environment triple.

When the crew members currently onboard the space station depart (currently scheduled for 18 April 2021) the mission becomes Expedition 65.

The newer crew members will perform scientific experiments and research the effects of long-duration space flight.

Can I see the International Space Station from Earth?

Incredibly, despite it being hundreds of miles above our heads, the astronauts’ new home can be observed from Earth.

As the largest space station and laboratory ever built, the ISS is relatively easy to find with your eyes, so you won’t need to worry about having any special equipment in order to get a glimpse.

The best way to spot the ISS when it’s flying over Earth is to find out when it is due to pass your location, and where to look for it in the sky.

The Space Station takes around 90 minutes to orbit the Earth. A pass over your location can last around five minutes, and the ISS will look incredibly bright. Because it moves so fast, it can sometimes be mistaken for an aircraft.

A good way of determining the difference is that the ISS does not have any flashing lights and can be much brighter than a standard aircraft.