SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon spits fire as it lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, 23 April at 05:49 local time. On board are ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

The crew of four spent around 23 hours orbiting Earth and catching up with the International Space Station after their launch before docking to the Node-2 Harmony module, marking the start of ESA’s six-month mission Alpha.

Thomas is the first European to be launched to space on a US spacecraft in over a decade. The new Crew Dragon ships four astronauts at a time, allowing more people to live and work on the International Space Station doing more research for scientists on Earth.

Alpha is Thomas’ second space mission, and everything is set to be bigger and brighter. A Russian laboratory module, scheduled to arrive in the summer with a European robotic arm, will offer more ways of maintaining the International Space Station and supporting spacewalkers as they work outside. Thomas will help set up this arm and prepare it for use during the Alpha mission.

Over 200 international experiments are planned during Thomas’ time in space. Of the 40 European ones, 12 are new experiments led by the French space agency CNES.

At the end of the Alpha mission in October, Thomas will take over commander of the International Space Station for a brief period and welcome ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer on his first flight to space.

Latest updates on the Alpha mission can be found on Twitter @esaspaceflight, with more details on ESA’s exploration blog via

Background information on the Alpha mission is available at with a brochure at