Hawthorne-based SpaceX successfully launched another group of astronauts into orbit early Friday morning en route to the International Space Station — becoming the first launch involving a previously used spacecraft and rocket.
The launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour had been scheduled for about 3:15 a.m. California time Thursday from Cape Canaveral in Florida. But bad weather in the launch zone pushed the mission until 2:49 a.m. California time Friday.
“3.. 2.. 1.. and liftoff! Endeavour launches once again,” NASA tweeted just after 2:49 a.m., as the rescheduled launch came off on time and without any problems.
“Four astronauts from three countries on Crew-2, now making their way to the one and only @Space_Station.”
The launch marked the second time the Endeavour has carried astronauts on a journey toward the International Space Station. The craft was used last summer in the historic flight of two astronauts that marked the first manned mission to launch from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program was retired.
SpaceX last November sent another four astronauts to the space station in a separate Dragon spacecraft, dubbed Resilience. That crew is still aboard the international orbiting outpost, scheduled to return to Earth next week. The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that propelled that crew on its mission was used again in Friday’s launch.
In what has become standard for SpaceX launches, the company again recovered the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on Friday, landing it on a “droneship” known as Of Course I Still Love You, which was floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The recovery will allow the rocket to be used again in future missions, furthering SpaceX’s program of dramatically slashing the cost of launches by reusing equipment.
Last summer’s historic SpaceX launch of two astronauts was technically considered a demonstration mission to test the capabilities of the Dragon spacecraft. So November’s launch of four astronauts was dubbed the Crew-1 mission, or Dragon’s first fully operational flight. Friday’s launch, therefore, was dubbed Crew-2.
Flying on the mission launched Friday are NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
McArthur, who grew up in Northern California, is a UCLA graduate in aerospace engineering, and she earned a doctorate in oceanography at UC San Diego, where she was a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The crew is scheduled to arrive at the space station at 2:09 a.m. California time Saturday after about a 24-hour flight. The crew is scheduled to remain on the station for about six months.
When the crew arrives, both SpaceX Dragon spacecraft — Endeavour and Resilience — will be concurrently docked at the station for the first time.
The Crew-1 astronauts — NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi — are scheduled to depart the station April 28 aboard Resilience, splashing down on Earth about 5 1/2 hours later.
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