An international crew of astronauts is en route to the International Space Station following a successful launch on the first NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft system in history.

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission lifted off at 7.27pm EST Sunday from Launch Complex 39A at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Together they will begin a six-month science mission aboard the space station.

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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “This is an important mission for NASA, SpaceX and our partners at JAXA, and we look forward to watching this crew arrive at station to carry on our partnership for all of humanity.”

The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience, is due to dock autonomously to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module around 11pm EST on Monday.

Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX said: "I could not be more proud of the work we've done here today.”

“Falcon 9 looked great, Dragon was dropped off into a beautiful orbit about 12 minutes into the mission, and we'll get more data as we go.”

The astronauts named the Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience in a bid to highlight the dedication teams involved with the mission have displayed. 

Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program said: “Watching this mission launch is a special moment for NASA and our SpaceX team.

“We are looking forward to getting this crew to station to continue our important work, and I want to thank the teams for the amazing effort to make the next generation of human space transportation possible.”

Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi will join the Expedition 64 crew of Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, both of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA.

The crew will conduct science and maintenance during a six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory and are to return in spring 2021.

It is scheduled to be the longest human space mission launched from the United States.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days, as a NASA requirement.

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Crew Dragon also is delivering more than 500 pounds of cargo, new science hardware and experiments inside, including Food Physiology, a study of the effects of an optimized diet on crew health and, Genes in Space-7, a student-designed experiment that aims to better understand how spaceflight affects brain function, enabling scientists to keep astronauts healthy as they prepare for long-duration missions in low-Earth orbit and beyond.

Among the science and research investigations the crew will support during its six-month mission are a study using chips with tissue that mimics the structure and function of human organs to understand the role of microgravity on human health and diseases and translate those findings to improve human health on Earth, growing radishes in different types of light and soils as part of ongoing efforts to produce food in space, and testing a new system to remove heat from NASA’s next generation spacesuit, the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU).

During their stay on the orbiting laboratory, Crew-1 astronauts expect to see a range of uncrewed spacecraft including the next generation of SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft, the Northrop Grumman Cygnus, and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner on its uncrewed flight test to the station. They also will conduct a variety of spacewalks and welcome crews of the Russian Soyuz vehicle and the next SpaceX Crew Dragon in 2021.

At the conclusion of the mission, the Crew-1 astronauts will board Crew Dragon, which will then autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

Last week, it was announced that biomining reactors which were developed at the UK Centre for Atrobiology at the University of Edinburgh could pave the way for new technologies to aid space exploration and help establish human settlements elsewhere in the Solar System.

The study showed that with the mining devices, astronauts may be able to extract useful bacteria from rocks on Mars and the Moon.

18 of the mining devices were aboard when a SpaceX rocket launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in July 2019, also headed for the International Space Station (ISS).