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The Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from Florida. Photo: NASA TV

NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Japan's Soichi Noguchi are on their way to the International Space Station.

Why it matters: The crewed launch marks the second time SpaceX has launched people to orbit for NASA and the mission is expected to be the first of many regular flights like this to the space station.

Details: The Falcon 9 carrying the four crewmembers took flight at 7:27 p.m. ET and the Crew Dragon capsule is expected to dock with the space station Monday night.

  • During their flight to the station, Hopkins, Walker, Glover and Noguchi are planning on testing out what kind of choreography is needed to make sure that everyone is comfortable during their trip to the station.
  • When astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley flew on the Crew Dragon for SpaceX's first crewed flight, there was plenty of room in the capsule because only two of them were flying, this time around, space will be at a premium.
  • The four crewmembers will stay onboard the space station for about six months before heading back home.

Of note: NASA tweeted late Sunday that engineers encountered an issue with heaters used to keep thruster propellant lines at a regular temperature.

Between the lines: All four of the astronauts were in quarantine ahead of launch to ensure they did not catch COVID-19 or another infection before heading up to the station.

The big picture: The Crew Dragon is the first American-made spacecraft able to bring astronauts to orbit since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

  • Until this summer's crewed SpaceX launch, NASA was solely reliant on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to bring their people to and from the space station.
  • Boeing is also working to develop its own crewed capsule, called the Starliner, that is expected to fly its first crewed mission in the next year or so.

This article has been updated with details on the propellant heaters issue.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

What to know about the Moon rock in Biden's Oval Office

The Moon rock now in the Oval Office. Photo: NASA

President Joe Biden hasn't revealed much about his space policy priorities yet, but space fans can take heart that space is on his mind, thanks to an Apollo Moon rock that now decorates the Oval Office.

Why it matters: The Moon rock — loaned to the White House by NASA — is on display "in symbolic recognition of earlier generations’ ambitions and accomplishments, and support for America’s current Moon to Mars exploration approach," according to a statement from NASA.

1 hour ago - World

U.S. will give Russians written response to NATO demands, Blinken says

Blinken and Lavrov shake hands in Geneva. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed after a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Friday that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia's security demands next week.

Why it matters: Russia claims to be waiting for "concrete answers" to its demands that NATO rule out further expansion and roll back its presence in eastern Europe before deciding its next steps on Ukraine. But the U.S. and NATO have called those proposals "non-starters," and Friday's meeting offered no breakthroughs, so it's unclear how written answers might change the equation.

More surprises await scientists at Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier"

Cliffs along the edge of the Thwaites Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. Photo: James Yungel/NASA

Researchers like David Holland, an atmospheric scientist at New York University, are in a race to understand the fate of a massive glacier in West Antarctica that has earned a disquieting nickname: "The Doomsday Glacier."

Why it matters: Studies show the Thwaites Glacier (its official name) could already be on an irreversible course to melt during the next several decades to centuries, freeing up enough inland ice to raise global sea levels by at least several feet.