• Reuters, Jiji

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NASA and Elon Musk’s commercial rocket company SpaceX launched a new four-astronaut team on a flight to the International Space Station early on Friday, the first crew ever propelled toward orbit by a rocket booster recycled from a previous spaceflight.

The company’s Crew Dragon capsule, Endeavour, soared into the darkened predawn sky atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shortly before 6 a.m. Eastern time from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in a blastoff aired live on NASA TV.

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 of the European Space Agency.

The crew is due to arrive at the space station, which orbits some 400 km above Earth, early on Saturday following a flight of nearly 24 hours.

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 U.S. soil last year, following a nine-year hiatus at the end of the U.S. space shuttle program in 2011.

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide reacts as he arrives for the boarding of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Friday. | REUTERS
Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide reacts as he arrives for the boarding of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Friday. | REUTERS

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 carmarker Tesla Inc.

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.

The mission marked the 52-year-old Hoshide’s third space flight, and upon arrival he will reunite with Soichi Noguchi, a 56-year-old Japanese astronaut who has been on the ISS since November last year.

The Crew Dragon capsule was launched into space for the second time after making its first flight with two U.S. astronauts aboard in May last year. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket is the one also used to send Noguchi and other astronauts to the ISS.

SpaceX launched a recycled capsule using a recycled first stage of a rocket for a manned mission for the first time. The U.S. company collects and reuses unmanned supply vessels for the ISS and the first stages of satellite-launching rockets.

Hoshide, whose previous trip to space was in 2012, will assume the role of ISS commander after his arrival, becoming the second Japanese to hold the post, after Koichi Wakata, 57.

The launch form the Kennedy Space Center on Friday | REUTERS
The launch form the Kennedy Space Center on Friday | REUTERS

During his six-month stay at the ISS, Hoshide will conduct such work as experiments on an advanced water recovery system for use in future exploration missions to the moon and Mars, protein crystallization experiments for drug development and the release of a small satellite.

He will work mainly on the Kibo Japanese experiment module of the ISS.

Noguchi is among the astronauts scheduled to leave the ISS aboard a different Crew Dragon capsule on April 28 to return to Earth. The capsule is expected to arrive in waters off Florida in the early hours of the following day.

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