NASA launches astronauts on ISS on reused SpaceX rocket

Four astronauts exploded en route to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral early Friday, marking NASA’s very first launch with a lightly used SpaceX rocket and capsule. After a one-day weather delay, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Endeavor Crew Dragon module took off at 5:49 a.m. as scheduled.

“Endeavor is once again launching four astronauts from three countries onto the one and only International Space Station,” said a voice from NASA’s mission control.

After a two minute and 40 second fire, the first stage rocket detached from the second stage, ignited its thrusters, and slowly returned to Earth to land on a floating platform off the coast of Florida. . Meanwhile, Crew-2 astronauts continued for another six minutes powered by the second booster stage, which put the Dragon Crew capsule into Earth orbit.

During the pre-dawn takeoff, the rocket’s Merlin engines provided 1.7 million pounds of thrust to exit Earth, reaching a speed of 17,000 miles per hour as it reached orbit. The successful launch was greeted with cheers from technicians at NASA’s mission control room in Houston and SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

After 13 minutes, the crew were able to lift the visor of their helmet and watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.

After a few rounds of Earth, Crew-2 will dock at the station early Saturday, joining the seven astronauts already on board. The ISS will be at full capacity for several days until Crew-1, arrived in november, returns to Earth on April 28. Crew 2 Commander Shane Kimbrough, NASA Pilot Megan McArthur, European Space Agency Mission Specialist Thomas Pesquet and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Mission Specialist Akihiko Hoshide will pass the next six months on the space station conducting experiments on human tissue engineering, as well as the installation of new flexible solar panels this will increase the power of the station by 30%.

This is the first time that NASA has sent humans into space via a previously used rocket and capsule. The rocket boosted Crew-1 flight in November 2020, while the Endeavor Crew Dragon capsule flew during the Demo-2 mission in May 2020. Reuse is key to SpaceX’s strategy of reducing costs while maintaining a rapid launch pace for NASA and its commercial customers, according to Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight at SpaceX. “The holy grail of spaceflight is reusability,” Reed told reporters on a teleconference earlier this week. “We continue to work as a team to assess how many additional flights we could reuse.”

The Falcon 9 rocket was designed for ten flights, but must be recertified by NASA before each mission. The space shuttle was also a reusable spacecraft, but it landed on a runway like an airplane and was propelled into space by rockets which were then thrown out. (NASA ended the shuttle program in 2011The space shuttle required considerable maintenance between flights, including inspecting and manually replacing hundreds of heat shields tiled on its belly. The new SpaceX rocket and capsule combo requires fewer repairs between flights. This includes replacing some cables and checking for salt water entering the capsule after the crew. splash in the ocean when they come back to Earth, Said Reed.

But that wasn’t the original plan, says Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut who handled commercial crew contracts at SpaceX from 2015 to 2018. “When I wrote that original contract, we wrote in it that every time we launched NASA astronauts, you would have a brand new spanked rocket and a brand new spanked spaceship, ”he says. This model has changed because the Falcon 9 and the Crew Dragon capsule have performed well in recent years. “What’s surprising is not that we do it [reusing rockets]is that we are doing it as fast as we are doing it, ”says Reisman, who is now a professor of astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California and technical consultant for the alternative space history series AppleTV For all mankind.

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