The four astronauts in their seats as the Crew Dragon reached orbit. Image from video

The first operational launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon sent four astronauts to a rendezvous with the International Space Station after a dramatic night launch that lit up the Florida skies.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on schedule at 4:27 p.m. Pacific time and was scheduled to reach the orbiting station on Monday evening.

The crew consists of mission commander Mike Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover and mission specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi. Hopkins, Glover and Walker are all NASA astronauts. Noguchi, who is with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, called the mission a “new era” of “international cooperation.”

In May, Los Angeles-based a SpaceX Crew Dragon sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station in the first manned mission to launch from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

While successful and hailed as a historic rejuvenation of U.S. spaceflight, that mission was technically just a demonstration flight, showing off the capabilities of the Crew Dragon.

Sunday’s launch was thus considered the first fully operational mission for a Crew Dragon. The capsule being used in the mission, named “Resilience,” is built to accommodate four astronauts instead of the two who flew in the May launch.

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