NASA, SpaceX launch 'Crew 3' astronauts to orbit

NASA and private rocket company SpaceX launched four astronauts into orbit late on Wednesday.

On board was a veteran spacewalker, two younger crewmates chosen for future lunar missions and a German materials scientist.

They blasted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10 pm Eastern and off they shot with a reddish, fireball glow.

The liftoff of the Dragon spacecraft has been named Endurance by the crew, who waved to the camera, as the launch appeared to go flawlessly.

Within 10 minutes of liftoff, the rocket's upper stage had delivered the crew capsule into orbit.

Meanwhile, the rocket's reusable lower stage, having detached from the rest of the spacecraft, flew itself back to Earth.

They are due to arrive at the space station, orbiting some 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth, on Thursday evening following a flight of about 22 hours.

The flight marks the third "operational" space station crew sent to orbit.

The latest mission also follows a flurry of recent high-profile astro-tourism flights, including the SpaceX launch in September of "Inspiration 4," the first all-civilian crew sent to orbit without a professional astronaut on board.

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