A Crew Dragon spacecraft from Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX), an American space transportation services company, has taken off from NASA’s (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Kennedy Space Center, carrying four astronauts from three countries who will spend 6 months in space.
This launch marked the third-ever crewed flight for billionaire 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 of the European Space Agency, and Akihiko Hoshide from Japan. They’re due to spend six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The Crew Dragon capsule, named “Endeavour,” previously carried NASA’s Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the space station in May 2020. This time, Endeavour soared into space atop a previously used SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX has long made reusability a major aspect of its business plan, hoping that recovering and refurbishing hardware will drive down the cost of spaceflight. Though the company has re-flown boosters and spacecraft dozens of times over the past several years, this will mark the first time the company will reuse hardware for a crewed mission.
The Crew Dragon is currently hurtling through space. It’ll continue to move through the orbit as it gradually maneuvers closer to the ISS, which orbits about 250 miles above ground. It’s set to dock with the ISS during the early hours of 24th April.
Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet, and Hoshide will join seven astronauts already on board the station, four of whom arrived on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in November. That will bring the space station’s total staff to 11 which is one of the largest crews the ISS has ever hosted. But that number will quickly drop back down to 7 when 4 other astronauts return from the station on April 28.
A prime focus of the astronauts’ mission will be to study “tissue chips,” or “small models of human organs containing multiple cell types that behave much the same as they do in the body.” NASA hopes that the findings will advance the development of drugs and vaccines.
NASA has spent more than a decade working to boost staffing aboard the 21-year-old space station after the retirement of its Space Shuttle program in 2011. Since then US has been left with Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft as the only option for getting astronauts to and from the ISS. NASA had been paying Russia as much as $90 million per seat for those trips.