SpaceX launched a group of astronauts for NASA early Friday morning. Elon Musk’s company has now sent 10 astronauts into space in less than a year.
The Crew 2 mission, the company’s second operational launch for NASA and the third to date, reached orbit after launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:49 a.m. ET. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket brought the four astronauts into space in the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship called Endeavor.
The launch marked several new novelties for SpaceX, with the company reusing both a rocket and capsule for the mission, surpassing the total number of astronauts launched into space under the Mercury program, which began in 1958.
In this leaflet provided by NASA, Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk observes the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the balcony of Operations Support Building II, which the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship is using on NASA’s SpaceX Crew 2 mission NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur carries ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide are at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 23, 2021 on board in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
NASA | Getty Images
“It was just spectacular,” said acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk after the start of the Crew 2 mission. “Our partnership with SpaceX has been enormous.”
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet from France is on its way to the International Space Station. The mission is scheduled to dock with the ISS about 24 hours after take-off at around 5:10 a.m. CET on Saturday.
“We’re just happy to be back in space and we’ll send our regards to Crew-1 when we get there,” said Kimbrough, speaking from the spaceship after takeoff.
The Crew 2 team will conduct a full-time mission on the ISS and spend approximately six months on board. The four will join the Crew-1 astronauts, who launched in November before the latter’s Crew Dragon capsule Resilience undocks and returns to Earth.
Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk (L, hidden) and SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk (C) speak to NASA astronaut Bob Benkhen (R) in front of NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, astronaut Thomas Pesquet from ESA (European Space Agency) Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide is leaving Neil A. Armstrong’s operations and cashier building and launching Launch Complex 39A to board at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 23, 2021 of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship to go in Florida
Gianrigo Marletta | AFP | Getty Images
After launch, SpaceX also landed the booster of its Falcon 9 rocket, the large lower part of the rocket. This Falcon 9 rocket booster previously launched the Crew 1 mission in November, and SpaceX plans to continue using it for future missions.
“We are excited to be part of the advancement of human space travel and look forward to going beyond Earth orbit to the moon and Mars and helping to make humanity a space civilization,” Musk said during a press conference the start.
SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon spacecraft and optimized its Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which provided the company with $ 3.1 billion to develop the system and launch six operational missions.
Commercial Crew is a competitive program. NASA also awarded Boeing $ 4.8 billion in contracts to develop its Starliner spacecraft. However, this capsule is still under development due to a flight test in December 2019 that encountered significant challenges.
In this handout picture provided by NASA, astronaut Thomas Pesquet (ESA) of the European Space Agency (LR), NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, and astronaut Akihiko Hoshide (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) JAXA prepare in spacesuits prepare to leave the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building for Launch Complex 39A on board the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for the SpaceX Crew 2 mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 23, 2021 in Cape Canaveral , Florida.
NASA | Getty Images
Crew-2 is the second of these six missions for SpaceX. NASA is now benefiting from the investments it has made in developing the company’s spacecraft.
NASA emphasizes that SpaceX not only gives the agency the ability to send astronauts into space, it also gives the agency a cost-saving option. The agency estimates $ 55 million per astronaut for the Crew Dragon flight, as opposed to $ 86 million per astronaut for the Russian flight. NASA estimated last year that the competition between two private companies for contracts with the agency saved development costs of $ 20 billion to $ 30 billion.