Austin, Texas (CNN Business) -
Austin, Texas (CNN Business) -
A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying four astronauts from three countries, lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday morning, beginning its six-month stay in space.
This launch marked the third crewed flight for Elon Musk's company and the first to make use of a previously flown rocket booster and spacecraft.
NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur will be joined by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency and Akihiko Hoshide from Japan. They are due to spend six months aboard the International Space Station after their Crew Dragon capsule docks early Saturday morning.
The Crew Dragon capsule, called "Endeavor," previously carried NASA's Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the space station in May 2020. Endeavor was lifted into space atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that was also charred with soot from a previous mission in which he flew.
November 2020. SpaceX has made reuse a cornerstone of its business plan, in the hope that hardware recovery and restoration will reduce the cost of space flight.
Although the company has returned to flying thrusters and spacecraft dozens of times in satellite and cargo launches over the past few years, this will be the first time the company will reuse hardware for a crewed mission.
What you didn't know about the SpaceX and NASA mission to the International Space Station
After enjoying time at the beach on Thursday and getting some sleep, the crew was at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to dress shortly after midnight. They then enjoyed carefully curated playlists, one of which featured tunes from Ozzy Osbourne, Foo Fighters, and Metallica, inside the Teslas that brought them to the launch pad before they were taken to the launch tower and accessed the launch pad. spaceship through an aerial walkway.
The astronauts spent hours being tethered to the capsule by a team of SpaceX aides and performing a series of communications and security checks.
The crew briefly entertained themselves during the checks by playing rounds of rock-paper-scissors, a superstitious tradition that all astronauts departing KSC observe before the flight.
Then, just before 6 a.m. ET, the Falcon 9 rocket came to life and propelled the spacecraft at more than 17,000 miles per hour before separating from the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX also landed the first-stage rocket booster on an offshore platform so that it can be used once again on a subsequent mission.
The Crew Dragon, meanwhile, is now hurtling through space.
It will continue to fly freely through orbit as it gradually approaches the ISS, which orbits about 250 miles above the ground.
It is scheduled to dock with the ISS around 5 am ET on Saturday.
Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet and Hoshide will join seven astronauts already aboard the station, four of whom arrived in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in November.
That will bring the total staffing of the space station to 11, one of the largest crews the ISS has ever hosted.
But that number will quickly drop to seven when four more astronauts fly home from the station on April 28.
NASA has spent more than a decade working to increase staffing aboard the space station for 21 years after retirement from its space shuttle program in 2011 left Russia's Soyuz spacecraft as the only option to carry. astronauts to and from the ISS. The United States had been paying Russia up to $ 90 million per seat for those trips.
For years, SpaceX worked under a $ 2.6 billion fixed price contract to develop its Crew Dragon spacecraft under NASA's Commercial Crew program, which for the first time in the space agency's history handed over the task of building and test a spacecraft worthy of crew to the private sector.
SpaceX made history last May with the first crewed launch of a Crew Dragon on a mission called Demo-2, which brought NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the ISS for a four-month stay.
A second manned SpaceX mission took off in November.
(Boeing (BA) is working under a similar contract to develop its own capsule for the program, called the Starliner, although it is still in the testing phase.)
A main focus of the astronauts' mission will be to study "tissue chips," or "small models of human organs that contain multiple types of cells that behave very similarly to how they do in the body" and that NASA hopes advance the development of drugs and vaccines, according to the space agency. That work will build on years of studying biological phenomena and other scientific phenomena aboard the ISS, where the microgravity environment can give scientists a better fundamental understanding of how something works.
McArthur is a space shuttle veteran and is married to Behnken, who co-piloted the historic Demo-2 mission last May.
McArthur told reporters over the weekend that he was able to gain "years of experience" with the Crew Dragon vehicle while Behnken worked alongside SpaceX during the Crew Dragon development process.
"I really had several years learning from him along the way," said McArthur, who will pilot the Crew-2 mission and has a Ph.D. in oceanography.
McArthur will be joined by NASA's Kimbrough, a retired Army colonel and veteran of two previous ISS missions.
His fellow crew members, Hoshide from Japan and Pesquet from France, also have prior spaceflight experience.
Pesquet said he appreciated the opportunity to fly aboard the reconditioned booster rocket that helps lift the capsule into a vacuum.
Worn hardware still covered in soot from his previous flights allowed him and his crewmates to "draw our initials" on the side of the vehicle.
"I don't know if [the writing] will stick, but I found it really cool," he said.