Elon Musk And SpaceX Is One Step Closer To Commercial Space Travel After A Successful ‘Crew 2’ Rocket Launch

SpaceX Crew-2 Rocket Launch NASA

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A SpaceX Crew Dragon rocket took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida early on Friday morning and four astronauts from three countries began their six-month stay at the International Space Station with a successful launch from earth. The flight marked the third-ever crewed flight for Elon Musk’s company and is the next step toward commercial space travel.

Here is who is on board:

  • Shane Kimbrough of the United States is the commander of Crew-2 at 53 years old. This is his third trip to space, having launched on the space shuttle Endeavour in 2008 and spending October 2016 to April 2017 on the space station.
  • Dr. K. Megan McArthur is also from the U.S. and will serve as the mission’s pilot. She is 49 years old and flew on the Atlantis in 2009 on a mission to refurbish and upgrade the Hubble Telescope. She is married to Bob Behnken, who traveled on the most recent Space X flight last year.
  • Akihiko Hoshide of Japan is 52 years old and has made two previous trips to space. He was on the Discovery shuttle in 2008 and spent four months on the space station in 2012
  • Thomas Pesquet is the youngest of the bunch at 43 years old and hails from France. He spent six months with Kimbrough on the space station from Nov. 2016 to June 2017.

They spent their last afternoon on earth at the beach in Florida and enjoyed their last non-space food meal before getting some sleep and suiting up just after midnight on Friday.

The astronauts spent hours being strapped into the SpaceX shuttle capsule before the Falcon 9 rocket fired its boosters and propelled the Crew Dragon space craft into space at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

The crew is expected to dock with the space station at 5:10 a.m. ET on Saturday, marking the first time in over 20 years that NASA, European Space Agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronauts are flying to an staying for a long duration mission on the ISS. They checked in and shared what life is like on board after they reached space and it’s pretty remarkable.

While the launch may not seem like as big of a deal, considering that it was SpaceX’s third this year, it is actually the biggest yet. The Crew-2 mission was the first time that the company reused both a rocket and a capsule. To break it down in its most simple form, the “space shuttle” that you think of is actually split into three key parts— a capsule and two stages of a rocket.

The initial stage of the rocket is what blasts the shuttle into space and it burns through the ascent until its propellants are exhausted. The first stage engine is then dropped from the vessel.

Once the first stage separates, the second stage ignites and continues the ascent into space. When it has run out of fuel, it too separates.

As the astronauts head to their destination in the capsule, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage returned to earth and landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. That has been done before, but what makes this mission so special is the capsule. This Crew-2 launched marked the first time that SpaceX had reused a capsule, in addition to the rockets. The same capsule that took Crew-1 to space is being used to take Crew-2, and McArthur sat in the same seat as her husband in May 2020.

Though the company has re-flown boosters and spacecraft many times before on satellite and cargo launches, this is the first time that SpaceX reused hardware for a crewed mission. With reusability as a long-made cornerstone of Musk and SpaceX’s business plan, the hope is that recovering and refurbishing hardware can significantly drive down the cost of spaceflight. Thus, this breakthrough can be considered the first step toward legitimate, (relatively) cost-effective space travel for the average person.

It also made for some incredible photographs from across the country, but mostly Florida.

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. The 11-person total will be one of the largest crews that the ISS has ever hosted, but it will drop back to seven when the four other SpaceX-launched astronauts head back to earth on April 28.

Friday’s four-person crew also brings the number of people that Musk has launched into space to 10. Pretty impressive.