Recycled SpaceX rocket, capsule launches crew

SpaceX launched four astronauts into orbit Friday morning aboard the Crew Dragon spaceship.
The astronauts gave a video tour of the ship in orbit and shared their reactions about the launch.
“There may have been some hooting and giggling” during the ride, pilot Megan McArthur said.

Spaceflight is serious business: Getting people from Earth into orbit safely requires precise planning and execution. But that doesn’t mean astronauts can’t have a little fun while they’re launching into space.

As part of its latest Crew-2 mission, SpaceX rocketed four astronauts toward the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon spaceship Friday morning. The successful launch inspired some joyful noise from the Crew-2 astronauts.

“The ride was really smooth. We couldn’t have asked for anything better,” NASA astronaut and pilot Megan McArthur said during a live video tour of Crew Dragon in orbit. “There may have been some hooting and giggling up here while all that was going on.”

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off with the Crew-2 mission on April 23, 2021.NASA TV

Using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon blasted off NASA’s Kennedy Space Center launchpad in Florida at 5:49 a.m. ET as the sun rose. Just 12 minutes later, the spaceship fully separated from the rocket and slipped into orbit.

“We chased the sun pretty quickly and caught up with it just a few minutes after we took off,” NASA astronaut and mission commander Shane Kimbrough said. “That was pretty special to see the sunlight coming in.”

Recycled SpaceX rocket, capsule launches crew
Recycled SpaceX rocket, capsule launches crew

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX launched four astronauts into orbit Friday using a recycled rocket and capsule, the third crew flight in less than a year for Elon Musk’s rapidly expanding company.

The astronauts from the U.S., Japan and France should reach the International Space Station early Saturday morning, following a 23-hour ride in the same Dragon capsule used by SpaceX’s debut crew last May. They’ll spend six months at the orbiting lab.

It was the first time SpaceX reused a capsule and rocket to launch astronauts for NASA after years of proving the capability on station supply runs. The rocket was used last November on the company’s second astronaut flight.

Embracing the trend, spacecraft commander Shane Kimbrough and his crew weeks ago wrote their initials in the rocket’s soot, hoping to start a tradition.

“If you have rapid and complete reusability, then that is the gateway to the heavens. That’s what we’re trying to get done, and the support of NASA makes a huge difference, ”Mr. Musk said after the launch.

Just a week ago, NASA awarded SpaceX a nearly $ 3 billion contract to provide the lunar lander that will deliver astronauts to the moon’s surface – Mr. Musk’s Starship, intended to be fully reusable to attain his ultimate prize of carrying astronauts to Mars and building a city ​​there.

Flying in a recycled capsule Friday provided a bit of deja vu for NASA astronaut Megan McArthur. She launched in the same seat in the same capsule as her husband, Bob Behnken, did during SpaceX’s first crew flight. This time, it was Mr. Behnken and their 7-year-old son waving goodbye.

Also flying SpaceX on Friday: Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and France’s Thomas Pesquet, the first European to launch in a commercial crew capsule.

A tight-knit crew of seasoned astronauts

Recycled SpaceX rocket, capsule launches crew
Recycled SpaceX rocket, capsule launches crew

This isn’t McArthur and Kimbrough’s first space voyage. The two NASA astronauts – and their crewmates Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency – have rocketed into orbit before”It’s great to be back in space again after a few years for me,” McArthur said. The last time she was in space was more than a decade ago, when she helped upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009.

“I’m like a baby bird here, relearning how to move around in microgravity and it feels really good but it feels a little bit weird too,” McArthur said. Crew-2 marks Kimbrough’s and Hoshide’s third space mission, and Pesquet’s second. All together, the four of them have logged more than 500 days in space.

The Crew-2 astronauts during a training session in Hawthorne, California. Left to right: Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, and Akihiko Hoshide. SpaceX

The four-person crew spent almost a year training for the mission: a shorter training timeline than previous crewed SpaceX missions.

“It’s a little less than a year of training, where the crews in front of us had several years of training,” Kimbrough said during an April 17 press conference.

The crew spent time relaxing together on a beach near the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday.

At 1:30 a.m. ET Friday, the astronauts suited up in their SpaceX spacesuits. Then they said goodbye to their families, drove to the launchpad, ascended the launch tower, and climbed aboard the spaceship. After more than four hours of pre-flight checks and preparation, they took off.

Traveling on a recycled spaceship

The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon are rolled out to the launchpad on April 16, 2021.NASA / Aubrey Gemignani

This was the first SpaceX mission to launch astronauts on a reused spaceship.

Crew Dragon became the first – and, so far, the only – commercial vehicle to carry humans into space last May, when NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken took it on a two-month test flight to the ISS. That mission, called Demo-2, was the first time a US spacecraft had launched people from US soil since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

The Falcon 9 rocket booster was also recycled – another first for SpaceX’s crewed flights. It’s the same booster that launched the preceding SpaceX mission, Crew-1, in November. Reusing ships and boosters enables more efficient and lower-cost travel beyond Earth.

Despite being used again, both Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 performed beautifully.

“The ride up was fantastic,” Pesquet said during the live tour of the ship.

The Resilience capsule docks to the International Space Station on November 16, 2020.NASA / SpaceX

“As you can see it’s pretty roomy,” he said, adding: “The inside is very comfy and we feel very well protected.”

SpaceX and NASA expect the Crew Dragon to rendezvous with the ISS around 5:10 a.m. ET on Saturday, joining seven other astronauts already up there.NASA has contracted four more SpaceX flights like this one. Crew Dragon is poised to carry the first civilian spaceflight in history, called Inspiration-4, in September.