With a recycled rocket and capsule, SpaceX launches its third crew
SPaceX used a recycled rocket and capsule to launch four astronauts into orbit. The astronauts are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on Saturday morning and stay there for six months.
After a 23-hour trip in the same Dragon capsule used by SpaceX’s first crew last May, the astronauts from the United States, Japan, and France are expected to arrive at the International Space Station early Saturday morning.
They’ll be at the orbital lab for six months.
“If you have full and rapid reusability, you’ve found the path to the heavens. That’s what we’re aiming for, and NASA’s support makes a big difference,” Musk said after the launch.
NASA just awarded SpaceX a nearly $3 billion contract to develop the lunar lander that will send astronauts to the moon’s surface — Musk’s Starship, designed to be completely reusable to achieve his ultimate goal of transporting astronauts to Mars and establishing a city there. Taking to the skies in a repurposed capsule Megan McArthur, a NASA astronaut, had a touch of déjà vu on Friday. During SpaceX’s first crew flight, she took the same seat in the same capsule as her partner, Bob Behnken.
On Friday, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and France’s Thomas Pesquet, the first European to launch in a commercial crew capsule, will both be flying SpaceX. Despite the early hour, fans lined the roads surrounding the Falcon as it took off an hour before sunrise. Liftoff was postponed by a day to take advantage of better conditions on the East Coast in the event of a launch abort and emergency splashdown.
SpaceX was told of a piece of space debris that might come dangerously close to the capsule just hours after liftoff. So, just in case, flight controllers told the astronauts to put on their spacesuits and lower their visors.
There was no risk, and the unidentified debris was discovered to be much farther away than first believed, passing about 28 miles (45 km) from the car.
Before they boarded white gull-winged Teslas from Musk’s electric car company, a masked Musk met briefly with the astronauts at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Before the caravan pulled away and returned to the pad in the predawn darkness, the astronauts’ spouses and children huddled around the cars for one last “love you.”
Because of COVID-19, NASA reduced the number of launch visitors, but SpaceX’s first privately owned flight made the cut. With the three people who will follow him, tech billionaire Jared Isaacman, who has purchased a three-day flight, watched the Falcon soar. Their capsule is still at the space station, and four astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth next Wednesday.
After NASA’s shuttles retired in 2011, SpaceX took over the station’s slack, beginning with supply runs the following year. After years of depending on Russia, the return of astronaut launches to Florida was a huge draw. Kennedy’s director Robert Cabana, a former shuttle captain, said, “It’s great to have this daily cadence again.”
Musk claims the Starship will be able to transport people in a few years, but he plans to destroy more of them along the way. He added that the Trump administration’s 2024 timetable for placing astronauts on the moon is achievable. Frank De Winne, an astronaut turned boss for the European Space Agency, said, “It’s a wonderful time to be here, and we’re really excited.”
He noted that while the space station will ultimately be decommissioned, the collaboration will continue in the hopes of “European explorers one day walking on the moon’s surface.”