A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launches on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide on board, Friday, April 23, 2021, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA photo/released.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 5:49 a.m. Friday. En route to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket are NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
Kimbrough, the mission commander, is a retired US Army colonel and graduate of the US Military Academy. Selected as a NASA astronaut in 2004, Kimbrough has logged 189 days in space and has six spacewalks under his belt going into this mission.
“We’re great, glad to be back in space for all of us, and we’ll send our regards to Crew-1 when we get there,” Kimbrough said on a livestream from inside Crew Dragon shortly after takeoff, according to The Verge.
Second in command for the mission is another American, Megan McArthur. She has been an astronaut since 2000 and will drive the Crew Dragon on its way to the ISS. While McArthur is making her first trip to the space station, she previously participated in the final servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. During that mission, she traveled into space aboard the space shuttle Atlantis and operated the shuttle’s robotic arm for over 12 days conducting repairs.
“I’m really proud of the SpaceX team and honored to be partnered with NASA and helping JAXA and ESA as well,” said Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX. “We’re thrilled to be a part of advancing human spaceflight and looking forward to going beyond Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars and helping make humanity a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species one day.”
The $2.6 billion SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft project followed the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011. Before SpaceX launched its first manned rocket in May 2020, NASA was reliant on Russia to send its astronauts to the International Space Station. Those trips cost the US government as much as $90 million per seat.
“We do intend to fly the Falcon 9 booster until we see some kind of failure… we’re learning a lot about reusability.” – Elon Musk, head of @SpaceX pic.twitter.com/9oOCtK8wFD
— NASA (@NASA) April 23, 2021
According to NASA, the Crew-2 mission is the second of six planned manned missions that SpaceX and NASA will conduct as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. In addition to being the first mission to reuse rockets and spacecraft, the mission has other “firsts” including the first commercial crew mission that involves two international partners, and the first time that two commercial spacecraft will be docked at the ISS at the same time.
“This is another important milestone for NASA, SpaceX, and our international partners at ESA and JAXA, and for the future of scientific research on board the space station. It will be an exciting moment to see our crews greet one another on station for our first crew handover under the Commercial Crew Program,” said NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft will remain in orbit until it is scheduled to autonomously dock with the ISS around 5:10 a.m. EST Saturday. From there the four astronauts will join seven others already aboard the ISS. Four astronauts who arrived as part of the Crew-1 mission in November 2020 will turn over research to the arriving Crew-2 members before returning to Earth on Wednesday.
Crew-2 will conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations in preparation for future missions to the moon. Additionally, they will be continuing a series of “Tissue Chips in Space” studies. Tissue chips are small models of human organs containing multiple cell types that behave much the same as they do in the body. Finally, Crew-2 will augment the station’s solar power system by installing the first pair of six new rollout solar arrays.
NASA will be livestreaming all aspects of the six-month trip via its website and app.
James Webb served as a US Marine infantryman from 2005 to 2010, completing a combat tour in Iraq. He’s worked as a freelance writer and photojournalist covering US troops in Afghanistan, and Webb spent more than two years in the US Senate as a military legislative assistant and as the personal representative of a member on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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