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 pre-dawn sky atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shortly before 6 a.m. Eastern time (1000 GMT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in a blastoff aired live on NASA TV.
The crew is due to arrive at the space station, which orbits some 250 miles (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.
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.
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.
Photo: A handout photo made available by NASA shows from left to right, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, wearing SpaceX spacesuits, are seen as they prepare to depart the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building for Launch Complex 39A to board the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Crew-2 mission launch, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. EPA-EFE/NASA/Aubrey Gemignani