Astronauts from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Japanese space agency JAXA have blasted off to the International Space Station on a reused SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. The crew of four lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 10.49 am UK time.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is making use of the same rocket booster that sent four astronauts to the ISS last November and the same capsule that transported and returned two astronauts during the first crewed SpaceX flight last May. Reusing space hardware is expected to slash the cost of space flight, opening it up to new customers.
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet is the first ESA astronaut to ride a SpaceX rocket to orbit. He is joined by NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur and JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide.
Pesquet will command the ISS during the final month of his six-month mission, which will see scientific experiments covering human research, biology, material sciences and environmental sciences.
It is the third launch in less than a year for NASA’s Commercial Crew programme, which turned to companies such as SpaceX to help bring launch capabilities back to the US after being dependent on Russia for nearly a decade.
After a 24-hour journey, the Crew Dragon capsule is expected to dock with the space station on Saturday at 10.10 am UK time. The astronauts will join the existing crew on board the ISS, temporarily taking the total number of astronauts to 11. After a six-month stay, the four astronauts will leave the space station in October and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.
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