Early Saturday morning ET, a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four astronauts from three countries docked with the International Space Station, kicking off the crew’s six-month stay in space.
This mission, dubbed Crew-2, is Elon Musk’s company’s third crewed flight and the first to use a previously flown, privately-owned rocket booster and spacecraft.
The astronauts launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Friday morning and spent nearly 24 hours speeding through space at more than 17,000 miles per hour as their Crew Dragon spacecraft manoeuvred toward the International Space Station, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth.
The capsule slowly aligned itself and moved in to dock directly with one of the space station’s ports on Saturday morning.
NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Japan’s JAXA space agency’s Akihiko Hoshide make up the crew.
According to NASA, one of the primary goals of the astronauts’ mission will be to conduct experiments with “tissue chips,” which are “small models of human organs containing various cell types that act almost the same as they do in the body” and which the space agency hopes will aid in the production of drugs and vaccines. This thesis will build on years of research on biological and other scientific phenomena aboard the International Space Station, where the microgravity atmosphere allows scientists to gain a greater understanding of how everything functions.
Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet, and Hoshide joined the station’s seven other astronauts, four of whom arrived in November on a separate SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. This takes the total number of people on board the space station to 11, making it one of the biggest crews the station has ever had. On April 28, four of the astronauts on board will hitch a ride home from the station, bringing the total number of astronauts on board back down to seven.
After the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011, Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft became the only choice for getting astronauts to and from the ISS, NASA has spent more than a decade working to increase staffing aboard the 21-year-old space station. For those journeys, the US had been paying Russia as much as $90 million per seat.
For years, SpaceX worked under a $2.6 billion fixed-price contract to produce the Crew Dragon spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which turned over the task of designing and testing a crew-worthy spacecraft to the private sector for the first time in the space agency’s history.
(Boeing (BA) is working on its capsule for the program under a similar contract.) Starliner, the capsule, is also in the testing phase.)
The project is a watershed moment in SpaceX’s attempts to reduce the cost of spaceflight by repurposing spacecraft hardware. Both the Crew Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 rocket that launched it into orbit have previously flown in space.
Despite the fact that the organization has reused boosters and spacecraft hundreds of times on satellite and cargo launches in recent years, this is the first time it has done so on a crewed flight.