Four astronauts are on their way to the International Space Station after a spectacular nighttime launch.

Americans Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins, and Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti, representing the European Space Agency, blasted off from the U.S. space agency NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Wednesday morning in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Freedom.

The quartet is expected to rendezvous and dock with the ISS shortly after midnight GMT Thursday morning [Wednesday night 8:15 p.m. Washington time], where it will spend the next six months conducting scientific experiments.

Watkins is making history as the first Black woman to be part of a long-duration ISS crew.

Wednesday’s launch marks the fourth time SpaceX, owned by entrepreneur Elon Musk, has sent an official crew to the ISS, and the fifth mission overall since the U.S. resumed sending astronauts to the station. A two-man crew traveled to the ISS in May 2020 on a test flight of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

A four-man team from another privately-owned space company, U.S.-based Axiom Space, just returned from the station Monday aboard a different SpaceX capsule after a two-week mission, making history as the first all-private astronaut team to fly aboard the ISS.

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