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SpaceX rocketship launches 4 astronauts on NASA mission to space station

SpaceX rocketship launches 4 astronauts on NASA mission to space station

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon space capsule lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Apr, 23, 2021 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo: AP/Brynn Anderson)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: NASA and Elon Musk's commercial rocket company SpaceX launched a new four-astronaut team on a flight to the International Space Station on Friday (Apr 23), the first crew ever propelled into orbit by a rocket booster recycled from a previous spaceflight.

The company's Crew Dragon capsule, Endeavour, streaked into the darkened pre-dawn sky atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as its nine Merlin engines roared to life at 5.49am (5.49pm, Singapore time) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The blastoff was aired live on NASA TV.

The crew is due to arrive at the space station, which orbits about 400km above Earth, early on Saturday following a flight of about 23 hours.

In this image made from NASA video, astronauts are seen in the cockpit of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft after lift off for the Crew 2 mission from Launch Complex 39A, Apr 23, 2021, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo: NASA via AP)

Within 10 minutes of launch, the rocket's second stage had delivered the crew capsule to Earth orbit, travelling at nearly 27,500 kmh, according to launch commentators.

The rocket's first stage, meanwhile, descended back to Earth and touched down safely on a landing platform floating in the Atlantic on a drone ship affectionately named Of Course I Still Love You.

The mission marks the second "operational" space station team to be launched by NASA aboard a Dragon Crew capsule since the United States resumed flying astronauts into space from US soil last year, following a nine-year hiatus at the end of the US space shuttle program in 2011.

It is also the third crewed flight launched into orbit under NASA's fledgling public-private partnership with SpaceX, the rocket company founded and owned by Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur who is also CEO of electric carmaker Tesla.

The first was an out-and-back test mission carrying just two astronauts into orbit last May, followed by SpaceX's first full-fledged four-member crew in November.

SpaceX astronauts leave the operations and checkout building for a trip to the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Friday, Apr 23, 2021. From left: NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. (Photo: AP/John Raoux) SpaceX Crew Launch

Friday's Crew 2 team consists of two NASA astronauts - mission commander Shane Kimbrough, 53, and pilot Megan McArthur, 49 - along with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, 52, and fellow mission specialist Thomas Pesquet, 43, a French engineer from the European Space Agency.

The four helmeted crew members, dressed in their white flight suits and black boots, were briefly glimpsed seated side by side in the capsule just after reaching orbit in a video clip captured by an onboard camera.

READ: How a space doctor keeps astronauts healthy on the ISS


They are expected to spend about six months aboard the orbiting research platform conducting science experiments and maintenance before returning to Earth.

The four members of Crew 1, sent to the space station in November, are slated to fly home on Apr 28.

The Crew 2 mission made a bit of spaceflight history due to the fact that its Falcon 9 rocket blasted off with the same first-stage booster that lofted Crew 1 into orbit five months ago, marking the first time a previously flown booster has ever been re-used in a crewed launch.

A SpaceX rocket with the company's Dragon capsule is illuminated by spotlights on the launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, early on Friday, Apr 23, 2021. (Photo: AP/Joel Kowsky, NASA) SpaceX Crew Launch

Reusable booster vehicles, designed to fly themselves back to Earth and land safely once they separate from the rest of the rocket minutes after launch, are at the heart of a re-usable rocket strategy that SpaceX helped pioneer to make spaceflight more economical.

SpaceX has logged dozens of successful Falcon 9 booster return landings, and the company has refurbished and re-used most of them, some for multiple flights. But all of those flights, until Friday's mission, only carried cargo.

NASA acting administrator Steve Jurczyk (left) and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk arrive for the walkout of the SpaceX crew before a launch attempt at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Friday, Apr 23, 2021. (Photo: AP/John Raoux) SpaceX Crew Launch

Crew 2's pilot, McArthur, made a bit of history herself as the first female pilot of the Crew Dragon and the second person from her family to ride aboard the SpaceX capsule.

She is married to NASA astronaut Bob Behnken, who flew the SpaceX demonstration flight with fellow astronaut Doug Hurley last year. The same Crew Dragon was used for that flight as well.

If all goes well, McArthur and her three crewmates will be welcomed aboard the space station on Saturday by the four Crew 1 astronauts - three from NASA and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA. Two Russian cosmonauts and a US astronaut who shared a Soyuz flight to the space station are also aboard.

Source: AFP/kg/dv


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