A SpaceX rocket ship blasted off on Friday carrying the first all-private astronaut team ever launched to the International Space Station (ISS), a flight hailed by industry executives and NASA as a milestone in the commercialization of low-Earth orbit.
The four-man team selected by Houston-based startup Axiom Space Inc for its landmark debut spaceflight and orbital science mission lifted off at 11:17 a.m. EDT (1517 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Live video webcast by Axiom showed the 25-story-tall SpaceX launch vehicle - consisting of a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket topped by its Crew Dragon capsule - streaking into the blue skies over Florida's Atlantic coast atop a fiery, yellowish tail of exhaust.
Cameras inside the crew compartment beamed footage of the four men strapped into the pressurized cabin, seated calmly in their helmeted white-and-black flight suits moments before the rocket soared toward space.
If all goes as planned, the quartet led by retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria will arrive at the space station on Saturday, after a 20-hour-plus flight, and the autonomously operated Crew Dragon will dock with the orbiting outpost some 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth.