NASA and Elon Musk’s commercial rocket company SpaceX launched a new four-astronaut team on a flight to the International Space Station on Friday, the first crew ever propelled into orbit by a rocket booster recycled from a previous spaceflight.
The company's Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour, also making its second flight, streaked into the darkened pre-dawn sky atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as its nine Merlin engines roared to life at 5:49 a.m. (0949 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The blast-off from Cape Canaveral was aired live on NASA TV.
The crew is due to arrive at the space station, orbiting some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, early on Saturday following a flight of about 23 hours. On the way they will have time to dine on pre-packaged meals and snacks and to get some sleep.
Within 10 minutes of launch, the rocket's second stage had delivered the crew capsule to Earth orbit, traveling at nearly 17,000 miles per hour, according to launch commentators.
The rocket's first stage, meanwhile, descended back to Earth and touched down safely on a landing platform floating in the Atlantic on a drone ship affectionately named Of Course I Still Love You.
The mission marks the second "operational" space station team launched by NASA aboard a Crew Dragon capsule since human spaceflights resumed from American soil last year, following a nine-year hiatus at the end of the U.S. space shuttle program in 2011.
It is also the third crewed flight launched into orbit in 11 months under NASA's fledgling public-private partnership with SpaceX, the rocket company founded in 2002 by Musk, who is also CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O).
The first was an out-and-back test mission carrying just two astronauts into orbit last May, followed by SpaceX's maiden flight of a full-fledged four-member space station crew in November.
"The future's looking good. I think we're at the dawn of a new era of space exploration," the billionaire entrepreneur said at a briefing with NASA officials after watching the liftoff from launch control.
Friday's Crew 2 team consists of two NASA astronauts - mission commander Shane Kimbrough, 53, and pilot Megan McArthur, 49 - along with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, 52, and fellow mission specialist Thomas Pesquet, 43, a French engineer from the European Space Agency.