HAWTHORNE, Calif. — Clouds billowed from the Falcon 9 rocket, visible on the large screen looming above us. The vehicle was across the country at a NASA launch site in Florida, and engineers there were talking to engineers here, at SpaceX Mission Control. “Stage 1 LOX load is complete,” a controller said, audible to people wearing headsets at 24 different consoles. It was T-minus 2 minutes and counting before liftoff on Oct. 5, and the rocket was fueled with liquid oxygen propellant. The mission’s operators were ready to send four astronauts to the International Space Station.

Journalists typically are not allowed in the room where SpaceX guides its rockets to space and back to Earth. The company has been operating such missions with increasing frequency; in 2022, SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rockets 61 times, and sometimes multiple rockets the same day or on consecutive days. It is a cadence that is among the engineering feats that have transformed an industry and made SpaceX a central player in American spaceflight. And the company was attempting something it had never done: launching three missions in under 31 hours.

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