SpaceX’s third-ever crewed flight reuses both Crew Dragon capsule ‘Endeavour’ and Falcon 9 booster, in a first for company
A reusable SpaceX launcher has carried four astronauts from three countries from a Florida launchpad to a rendezvous with the International Space Station.
The launch was SpaceX’s third crewed launch to date, and the first to use a previously flown boster and spacecraft.
NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur were joined by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency and Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
The passengers departed on Friday to dock with the ISS on Saturday morning for a six-month stay in space.
The “Endeavour” Crew Dragon capsule previously carried NASA’s Robert Behnken – who is married to McArthur – and Douglas Hurley to the ISS in May 2020.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 booster rocket was also previously used in November 2020, and was still charred with soot from that mission.
Pesquet shared a photo of himself and the other three on a Florida beach on Twitter before they proceeded to Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre shortly after midnight.
The astronauts were driven to the launchpad in white Tesla Model Xs bearing the NASA logo, then sent several hours being strapped into the spacecraft.
The launch took place shortly before 6 a.m. local time, with the Falcon 9 booster separating and landing on a sea platform for further reuse.
The crew docked with the ISS on Saturday morning at a height of about 250 miles above the Earth’s surface.
Their arrival brought the station’s crew to a total of 11, which will drop back to seven with the scheduled departure of four other astronauts on 28 April.
NASA said the astronauts would focus in part on studying the functioning of human cells in microgravity, which could advance the development of drugs and vaccines.
NASA ended its Space Shuttle programme in 2011 and since then has relied on Russia’s Soyuz to ferry crew into space.
Over the past ten years the agency has contracted with SpaceX and Boeing to create private-sector launch facilities.
The company has announced plans for its first all-civilian spaceflight for the fourth quarter of this year.