SpaceX is launching its third crew of astronauts, the first on a used Crew Dragon capsule

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SpaceX launched its third crew of astronauts to the International Space Station early Friday morning, using a Crew Dragon space capsule to fly humans for the first time. The mission, dubbed Crew-2, is the latest flight under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and will add four additional astronauts to the orbital space station.

A used Falcon 9 rocket, last flown last year for SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission, took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 5:49 a.m.ET on Endeavor, the same Crew Dragon capsule that first flew nearly a year ago. launched SpaceX’s first astronaut mission. For this flight, the Endeavor capsule carried four astronauts from three different countries – the most diverse NASA-managed crew to date.

“Off the Earth, for the Earth, Endeavor is ready to go,” NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, the commander of the mission’s spacecraft, said minutes before he took off.

Kimbrough and fellow NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, who served as pilots, accompanied mission specialists Akihiko Hoshide from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Thomas Pesquet, a French space engineer from the European Space Agency (ESA). The crew will be en route for approximately 23 hours as Endeavor autonomously elevates its orbit toward the ISS, awaiting a docking at 5:10 a.m. ET tomorrow, April 24.

Kimbrough, McArthur, Hoshide and Pesquet will spend six months in space and will join seven astronauts already aboard the space station, an orbital science lab that orbits more than 27,000 kilometers per hour around Earth around 400 kilometers. will fly. Two days after the crew’s arrival, four other astronauts from SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission, launched to the ISS on November 15 last year, will board a separate Crew Dragon capsule and return to Earth to create their own. stay of six months.

Crew-2 marks SpaceX’s third astronaut mission under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the agency’s public-private initiative to revive its manned spaceflight capabilities after nearly 10 years of reliance on Russian rockets. It is the second of six operational missions that SpaceX has contracted to fly under that program, which the company awarded $ 2.6 billion in 2014 to develop and fly Crew Dragon. SpaceX’s first manned mission in May 2020, with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board, was considered a test flight.

Joined by two Russian cosmonauts and NASA’s Mark Vande Hei, all launched on April 9 with a Russian Soyuz rocket, Crew-2’s stay aboard the ISS will bring a crew of seven in space over the next few months. During their stay, the crew will conduct a series of microgravity science experiments. The Crew-2 astronauts’ scientific efforts will focus on a cassette-sized device containing human cells study how those cells respond to various drugs and health problems associated with microgravity.

The larger crew means that other science experiments, including a few projects that track how plants grow and behave in space, will also make some progress. “It’s like a party up there,” said Annmarie Eldering, a project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who is working on Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, a device that astronauts will use to measure carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. “If you get all those measurements from space, at the same time, in the same place, it’s really powerful for science,” Eldering said in a live NASA broadcast Friday morning.

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