SpaceX has safely landed 4 astronauts in the ocean for NASA, completing the US’s longest human spaceflight

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NASA’s Crew-1 mission crew members in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft (left to right): NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

SpaceX just returned its first full astronaut crew to Earth, completing the longest human spaceflight any US vehicle has ever flown.

The astronauts of the Crew-2 mission – Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – felt the pull of Earth’s gravity for the first time in six months as their Crew Dragon spaceship tore through the atmosphere early Sunday. The spaceship, which they’ve named Resilience, protected them as its speed superheated the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma.

A few miles above the ocean, four parachutes ballooned from the gumdrop-shaped capsule, jerking it into a slower fall. They gently lowered Resilience to a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 2:57 a.m. ET. The waves were calm and the weather was clear.

This was NASA’s first nighttime splashdown since 1968. Thermal cameras on a nearby recovery ship and a NASA plane captured video, below, of the spaceship and its parachutes falling into the ocean.

“On behalf of NASA and the SpaceX teams, we welcome you back to planet Earth. Thanks for flying SpaceX. For those of you enrolled in our frequent flyer program, you have earned 68 million miles on this voyage,” a mission controller quipped to the Crew-1 astronauts as they splashed down.

“We’ll take those miles. Are they transferable?” Hopkins responded.

The astronauts’ return to Earth concludes SpaceX’s first routine crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS). That’s where Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi have been living and working since they launched in November.

SpaceX first proved it could launch and land humans last year when it rocketed NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS for a two-month test flight. Now it has shown that it can carry out full-length crew rotations.

nasa space x
There were 11 humans aboard the International Space Station last week.

NASA has contracted five more round-trip flights from SpaceX. The next one, Crew-2, already delivered four more astronauts to the ISS last weekend. Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted their Dragon-flying colleagues with smiles and hugs. The football-field-sized orbiting laboratory was crowded with 11 people during the week that the two missions overlapped.

But on Saturday evening, the Crew-1 astronauts said goodbye and climbed back into the Crew Dragon Resilience.

The capsule undocked from its ISS port and fell into orbit around Earth, slowly lining up with a path to its splashdown site over the next 6.5 hours.

“This marks many important milestones, but it really is important for getting a regular cadence of crew to the station and back,” Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said after the Crew-2 launch.

“What we do on ISS is important not only for the research and technology development that we do for here on Earth but also to prepare for what we’re going to do in the future,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is sending astronauts to Mars.”

Having fun and making history 250 miles above Earth

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Left to right: Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover gather around a laptop computer to join a video conference on February 7, 2021.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi conducted hundreds of science and technology experiments during their time in orbit. They did a few spacewalks. They also relocated the Crew Dragon from one ISS docking port to another – a first for the spacecraft.

The crew celebrated Glover’s 45th birthday on Friday, their last full day on the ISS. The party featured cake, musical instruments, and balloons.

“Gratitude, wonder, connection. I’m full of and motivated by these feelings on my birthday, as my first mission to space comes to an end,” Glover, who is the mission pilot, tweeted. “This orbiting laboratory is a true testament to what we can accomplish when we work together as a team. Crew-1 is ready for our ride home!”

Glover was a rookie at the beginning of this mission, but Noguchi is a spaceflight veteran. He’s spent more than a year of his life in space and has flown on three different spacecraft. He said after the launch that Crew Dragon was the best.

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Soichi Noguchi poses with his SpaceX Crew Dragon spacesuit inside the International Space Station.

Hopkins, the mission commander, has had to sleep inside the spaceship for the last five months since the ISS didn’t have enough beds. That gave him the only room with a window 250 miles above Earth. The views were “absolutely stunning,” he told reporters last week.

As their departure date approached, the astronauts wondered what the Crew Dragon had in store for them.

“We don’t know quite what to expect landing on the water under parachutes like this,” Walker said. “And it’s just exciting that we get to go home and see our friends and family.”

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The Crew Dragon Endeavour parachutes into the Gulf of Mexico with Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley onboard, August 2, 2020.

Their return trip was originally scheduled for Wednesday, then for Saturday morning, but NASA rescheduled twice after forecasts predicted high winds in the splashdown zones.

Akihiko Hoshide, a JAXA astronaut on Crew-2, has taken over the role of ISS commander. He spoke to the Crew-1 astronauts over the radio as their spaceship backed away from the station: “Resilence departed. Have a safe trip back home and a soft landing.”

“Thanks for your hospitality,” Hopkins responded. “Sorry, we stayed a little bit long. And we’ll see you back on Earth.”

‘A new era of space exploration’

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Elon Musk celebrates after SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft launch their first astronauts on the Demo-2 mission, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 30, 2020.

NASA shares its Mars ambitions with Elon Musk, the founder, CEO, and chief engineer of SpaceX. So far, SpaceX seems to be the agency’s first-choice commercial partner in expanding human spaceflight.

NASA recently chose the company’s Starship mega-spaceship to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. However, work has been temporarily halted after competing firms Dynetics and Blue Origin filed complaints.

“The future’s looking good,” Musk said in a press conference after the Crew-2 launch. “I think we’re at the dawn of a new era of space exploration.”

That era begins in low-Earth orbit, with the six Crew Dragon missions NASA has purchased. So far, this is the only commercial spaceship ever to fly humans – and it’s done so for three crews.

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The Crew Dragon Endeavour approaches the International Space Station with the Crew-2 astronauts on board, April 24, 2021.

Those missions restored NASA’s ability to launch astronauts from the US for the first time since the last Space Shuttle flew in 2011. The Crew Dragon also gives other space agencies, like JAXA, an alternative to the Russian Soyuz rockets that have dominated human spaceflight for the last decade.

This was what NASA wanted from its Commercial Crew Program, which funded SpaceX to build Crew Dragon and prepare its Falcon 9 rockets for crewed launches. NASA did the same for Boeing’s Starliner spaceship, but that vehicle has to re-do an uncrewed mission to the ISS before it can fly humans.

To the moon and Mars

starship moon human landing system
Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry NASA astronauts to the Moon’s surface during the Artemis mission.

Through the partnerships fostered in the Commercial Crew Program – and using its own mega-rocket, the Space Launch System – NASA aims to put boots on the lunar surface in 2024. Musk has said he thinks this timeline is “doable,” though NASA’s Office of the Inspector General recently determined it is “highly unlikely.”

Whenever it happens, that mission would kick NASA’s Artemis program into full gear. The eventual goal is to establish a permanent human presence on the moon – picture ISS-like orbiting laboratories and research stations on the lunar surface. NASA plans to send human missions to Mars from there.

Musk has his own plans, including building SpaceX’s planned Starship-Super Heavy launch system and using it to build a self-sustaining settlement on Mars. For now, Starship prototypes are still trying to fly and land without exploding.

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A snapshot from a SpaceX livestream of a Starship prototype flying up to 6 miles above Texas.

SpaceX also plans to start launching private spaceflight missions for paying customers. The first, set to launch this year, is called Inspiration4. For that flight, billionaire Jared Isaacman purchased four seats on Crew Dragon Resilience – the same capsule that just splashed down in the ocean. He and three other civilians plan to take a three-day joy ride around Earth.

“I think it’s a good thing for human spaceflight to see more and more people getting up into orbit around Earth. It’s just an amazing experience,” Mike Hopkins told reporters in a call from the ISS last week when asked how he felt about civilians flying in the spaceship he’s been commanding.

“As we look to kind of transition low-Earth orbit to the commercial industry, this is a big step along that way. And then NASA can continue to focus on exploration and getting back to the moon and on to Mars.”

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Watch live: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship is bringing 4 astronauts back to Earth, ending NASA’s longest human spaceflight

spacex nasa crew 1 mission 4x3
Flying aboard SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission for NASA are astronauts (from left) Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover.

A gumdrop-shaped fireball is set to plummet through the dark Florida skies overnight.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, carrying four astronauts for NASA, is preparing to plow through the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound, deploy four parachutes as it approaches the coast of Florida, and then glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at about 2:57 a.m. ET on Sunday.

The return journey has already begun. The spaceship, named Resilience, has backed away from the International Space Station (ISS), carrying Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Resilience carried these astronauts to the ISS in November. They have been living and working there ever since.

Their mission, called Crew-1, officially restored NASA’s ability to launch people into space on a US spacecraft for the first time since the Space Shuttles stopped flying in 2011. Six-month spaceflights have been routine for NASA astronauts launching on Russian Soyuz spaceships, but until now, the US had never flown such long-term missions on its own.

nasa space x
There were 11 humans aboard the International Space Station last week.

Crew-1 is also SpaceX’s first routine astronaut flight for NASA. The agency has already purchased five more Crew Dragon missions. The second one, Crew-2, launched four more astronauts toward the ISS on April 23; they reached the station the following morning.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted the new arrivals, but the ISS was getting crowded. So on Saturday evening, the Crew-1 team climbed back aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience for the journey home.

Watch live as Crew-1 returns to Earth

NASA is broadcasting the nearly seven-hour journey – including the fiery plunge to Earth and the splashdown at the end – via the livestream below, which began at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi boarded the Resilience capsule and closed its hatch behind them at 6:20 p.m. ET on Saturday. After about two hours of checkouts, the hooks keeping Resilience attached to the space station retracted at 8:35 p.m. ET, undocking the spaceship from the ISS. The vehicle then fired its thrusters to back away.

The Crew-1 return trip was originally scheduled for Wednesday, then for Saturday morning, but NASA delayed it twice after forecasts predicted high winds in the splashdown zones.

SpaceX has flown humans back to Earth from the ISS once before – on a crewed test flight called Demo-2. In May, that mission rocketed NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into orbit. They stayed on the ISS for two months before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

The entire descent and landing process is automated, but Hurley advised the Crew-1 astronauts to make sure they’re “staying ahead of the capsule,” according to Hopkins, the mission commander.

“Preparing for that landing is just going over our procedures and making sure when we get into that sequence of events, that we’re ready to go, and we’re following right along with all of the automation as it takes us to, hopefully, a safe landing,” Hopkins told reporters in a call from the ISS on Monday.

If all goes well, Resilience is expected to spend the next few hours orbiting Earth and maneuvering into position. At 10:58 p.m. ET, the capsule should jettison its trunk – a lower section outfitted with fuel tanks, solar panels, and other hardware – which it will no longer need.

From there, the Crew-1 astronauts could be in for a bumpy ride.

“The landing was – I would say it was more than what Doug and I expected,” Behnken told reporters after he returned to Earth aboard the spaceship. “I personally was surprised at just how quickly events all transpired.”

crew dragon return reentry demo2 doug hurley bob behnken
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft on August 2, 2020.

“It felt like we were inside of an animal,” he added.

Behnken also said that pivotal moments of the landing process – such as when the capsule separated from its trunk and when the parachutes deployed – felt “very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat.”

What to expect as the astronauts plummet to Earth

As the Resilience spacecraft approaches Earth, it is expected to fire its thrusters continuously, pushing itself further into the atmosphere.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation of Crew Dragon plowing through the atmosphere.

Soon, the spaceship should be plummeting through the atmosphere, superheating the material around it to a blistering 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point in his flight, Behnken said, he could feel the capsule heating up, and the force of Earth’s gravity pulling on him for the first time in two months. It felt like being in a centrifuge, he added.

The Crew Dragon’s heat shield – a collection of heat-resistant tiles that line the spaceship’s underbelly – must deflect that superheated material to protect the astronauts inside. After the Demo-2 landing, NASA and SpaceX found that one of those tiles had worn away more than expected. So SpaceX reinforced the heat shield with stronger materials.

Once it’s about 18,000 feet above the ocean, Resilience should deploy four parachutes – which brings a “pretty significant jolt,” Behnken said.

demo-2 splashdown parachutes crew dragon spacex
The Crew Dragon Endeavour lands in the Gulf of Mexico, returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth on August 2, 2020.

From there, Resilience should glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at 2:57 a.m. ET on Sunday. A recovery crew is expected to retrieve the charred capsule and carry the astronauts to shore.

During Behnken and Hurley’s return to Earth, a crowd of onlooking boats got dangerously close to the spaceship after it splashed down. To prevent that from happening again, SpaceX, NASA, and the Coast Guard plan to secure a 10-mile no-boat perimeter around the Crew-1 splashdown site.

demo2 crew dragon recovery splashdown spacex nasa
The SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship lifts the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour out of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, on August 2, 2020.

“Landings are always fairly dynamic, particularly with the capsules like this, particularly when the chutes are opening. So that’s always a little bit exciting,” Hopkins said.

When asked what he’d like to eat upon returning from the ISS, he replied, “If I have an appetite, that’s going to be a bonus.”

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on April 26, 2021.

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Watch SpaceX’s Crew-1 astronauts plummet to an ocean landing on Wednesday, ending the longest human spaceflight in NASA history

spacex nasa crew 1 mission 4x3
Flying aboard SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission for NASA are astronauts (from left) Mike Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi, Shannon Walker, and Victor Glover.

A gumdrop-shaped fireball is set to plummet to Earth on Wednesday.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, carrying four astronauts for NASA, is scheduled to plow through the atmosphere at 25 times the speed of sound, deploy four parachutes as it approaches the coast of Florida, then glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at about 12:40 p.m ET.

The spaceship, named Resilience, flew to the International Space Station in November, carrying Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins of NASA, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The astronauts have been living and working in orbit for more than five months – the longest human spaceflight in US history.

Their mission, called Crew-1, officially restored NASA’s ability to launch people to space on its own spacecraft for the first time since the Space Shuttles stopped flying in 2011. Six-month spaceflights have been routine for NASA astronauts launching on Russian Soyuz spaceships, but until now, the US had never flown such long-term missions on its own.

Crew-1 was also SpaceX’s first routine astronaut flight for NASA. The agency has already purchased five more Crew Dragon missions. The second one, Crew-2, launched four more astronauts on Friday and reached the ISS on Saturday morning.

nasa space x
There are currently 11 people aboard the International Space Station.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi greeted the new arrivals, but the ISS is now crowded. So on Wednesday morning, the Crew-1 team will climb back aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience for the journey home.

SpaceX has flown humans back to Earth from the ISS once before – on a crewed test flight called Demo-2. In May, that mission rocketed NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into orbit. They stayed on the ISS for two months before splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico.

During Behnken and Hurley’s return to Earth, however, a crowd of onlooker boats got dangerously close to the spaceship after it splashed down. To prevent that from happening again, SpaceX, NASA, and the Coast Guard plan to secure a 10-mile no-boat perimeter around the Crew-1 splashdown site.

Watch live as Crew-1 returns to Earth

NASA will broadcast the entire day’s events via the livestream below, starting at 4:45 a.m. ET.

The entire descent and landing process is automated, but Hurley advised the Crew-1 astronauts to make sure they’re “staying ahead of the capsule,” according to Hopkins, who is the mission commander.

“Preparing for that landing is just going over our procedures and making sure, when we get into that sequence of events, that we’re ready to go, and we’re following right along with all of the automation as it takes us to, hopefully, a safe landing,” he told reporters in a call from the ISS on Monday.

Walker, Glover, Hopkins, and Noguchi will board the Resilience capsule and close its hatch behind them at 5 a.m. ET. After two hours of checkouts, the hooks keeping Resilience attached to the space station should retract at 7:05 a.m. ET, undocking the spaceship from the ISS. The vehicle will then fire its thrusters to back away.

If all goes well, Resilience will spend the next few hours orbiting Earth and maneuvering into position. Then the capsule will jettison its trunk – a lower section outfitted with fuel tanks, solar panels, and other hardware – which the astronauts will no longer need.

From there, the Crew-2 astronauts could be in for a very bumpy ride.

“The landing was – I would say it was more than what Doug and I expected,” Behnken told reporters after he returned to Earth aboard the spaceship. “I personally was surprised at just how quickly events all transpired.”

“It felt like we were inside of an animal,” he added.

crew dragon return reentry demo2 doug hurley bob behnken
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft, August 2, 2020.

Behnken also said that pivotal moments of the landing process – like when the capsule separated from its trunk and when the parachutes deployed – felt “very much like getting hit in the back of the chair with a baseball bat.”

As the Resilience spacecraft approaches Earth, it will fire its thrusters continuously, pushing itself further into the atmosphere.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation of Crew Dragon plowing through the atmosphere.

Soon, the spaceship will be plummeting through the atmosphere, superheating the material around it to a blistering 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point, Behnken said, he could feel the capsule heating up, and the force of Earth’s gravity pulling on him for the first time in two months. It felt like being in a centrifuge, he added.

The Crew Dragon’s heat shield – a collection of heat-resistant tiles that line the spaceship’s underbelly – must deflect that super-heated material to protect the astronauts inside. After the Demo-2 landing, NASA and SpaceX found that one of those tiles had worn away more than expected. So SpaceX reinforced the heat shield with stronger materials.

Once it’s about 18,000 feet above the ocean, Resilience should deploy four parachutes – which brings a “pretty significant jolt,” according to Behnken.

demo-2 splashdown parachutes crew dragon spacex
The Crew Dragon Endeavour lands in the Gulf of Mexico, returning astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth, August 2, 2020.

From there, Resilience should glide to a gentle splashdown in the ocean at 12:40 p.m. ET. A recovery crew will be waiting to retrieve the charred capsule and carry the astronauts to shore.

demo2 crew dragon recovery splashdown spacex nasa
The SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship lifts the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour out of the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, August 2, 2020.

“Landings are always fairly dynamic, particularly with the capsules like this, particularly when the chutes are opening. So that’s always a little bit exciting,” Hopkins said.

When asked what he’d like to eat upon returning from the ISS, he replied: “If I have an appetite, that’s going to be a bonus.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch live: SpaceX is launching 4 astronauts aboard a recycled Crew Dragon spaceship for NASA on Friday

crew 2 astronauts spacex nasa
The Crew-2 astronauts pose during a training session at the SpaceX training facility in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX is rocketing four astronauts toward the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday morning.

The company’s Crew Dragon spaceship is the first and only commercial vehicle to carry people into space. It’s now a cornerstone of NASA’s human spaceflight program.

Friday’s mission, called Crew-2, is the second routine astronaut flight that SpaceX is conducting for NASA. The agency has contracted six Crew Dragon missions in total. The first one, Crew-1, is still on the ISS. Those astronauts will be welcoming the four newcomers: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency.

SpaceX NASA
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39-A at Kennedy Space Center.

“We want this to become a regular way to get to the space station, which means, I don’t know, down the line hundreds of launches maybe,” Pesquet said during a March news conference.

The astronauts have ascended a launch tower to the top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and climbed aboard the Crew Dragon capsule that’s secured to the top. They’re set to roar into space at 5:49 a.m. ET on Friday.

“We’re ready and we’re excited to fly,” McArthur said in the news conference.

Watch the historic spaceflight on NASA’s livestream below.

Watch SpaceX’s recycled Crew Dragon Endeavour fly to space again

NASA TV has live coverage of the preparations, launch countdown, and liftoff:

NASA’s live coverage of the Crew-2 launch began at 1:30 a.m. ET on Friday, as the astronauts got suited up in their SpaceX spacesuits. After that, the astronauts said goodbye to their families, drove to the launchpad in a pair of custom Teslas, ascended the launch tower, and climbed aboard Crew Dragon.

With the astronauts strapped in and the spaceship’s hatch sealed shut, the rocket will be loaded with cryogenically chilled propellant in the 35 minutes before liftoff. If all goes well, it should roar past the launchpad, toward space at 5:49 a.m. ET.

This particular Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavour, is the same one that flew the first commercial spaceflight last year, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS in a demonstration mission. The capsule has since been refurbished and upgraded.

McArthur will pilot the spaceship, just as Behnken (her husband) did last summer.

crew dragon spaceship orbit earth crew 1 docking international space station
The Resilience capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking, November 16, 2020.

“I’m going to launch in the same seat. So that is kind of a fun thing that we can share, you know, I can tease him and say, ‘Hey, Can you hand over the keys? I’m ready now to go,'” McArthur recently said in a press call.

The Falcon 9 booster, which is also reusable, is the same one that launched Crew-1 in November.

Friday’s launch was originally set for Thursday morning, but NASA rescheduled because of an unfavorable weather forecast. If weather prevents the flight again on Friday, the agency may have its next launch opportunity on Monday.

After launch, Crew Dragon must orbit Earth and dock to the ISS

crew dragon resilience crew-1 docking international space station spacex nasa
The Resilience capsule docks to the International Space Station on November 16, 2020.

Once the Crew Dragon slips into orbit, it will stay there for nearly 24 hours. The astronauts will likely change out of their spacesuits, eat, get a full night’s sleep, have breakfast, organize their belongings, and, eventually, put their spacesuits back on to prepare for arrival at the ISS.

SpaceX and NASA expect the Crew Dragon to perform a series of automated maneuvers to dock to the ISS around 5:10 a.m. on Saturday. The astronauts have to be suited up in case something goes wrong and the Crew Dragon has to prematurely return to Earth. NASA TV will broadcast the docking operation as well.

crew 2 astronauts crew dragon spaceship
The Crew-2 astronauts during a training session in Hawthorne, California. Left to right: Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, and Akihiko Hoshide.

The ISS will be crowded with 11 people for at least four days while Crew-1 is still on board. Those astronauts – Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi – will climb back into their own Crew Dragon capsule as early as April 28.

Their capsule, called Resilience, will then undock from the ISS, push itself toward Earth, and plummet through the atmosphere. Parachutes should release, allowing the spaceship to drift to a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

The Crew-2 astronauts will return in a similar fashion in about six months.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch SpaceX launch 4 astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Friday

crew 2 astronauts spacex nasa
The Crew-2 astronauts pose during a training session at the SpaceX training facility in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX is rocketing four astronauts toward the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday morning.

The company’s Crew Dragon spaceship is the first and only commercial vehicle to carry people into space. It’s now a cornerstone of NASA’s human spaceflight program.

Friday’s mission, called Crew-2, is the second routine astronaut flight that SpaceX is conducting for NASA. The agency has contracted six Crew Dragon missions in total. The first one, Crew-1, is still on the ISS. Those astronauts will be welcoming the four newcomers: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency.

SpaceX NASA
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39-A at Kennedy Space Center.

“We want this to become a regular way to get to the space station, which means, I don’t know, down the line hundreds of launches maybe,” Pesquet said during a March news conference.

The astronauts are set to ascend a launch tower to the top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, climb aboard the Crew Dragon capsule that’s secured to the top, then roar into space at 5:49 a.m. ET on Friday.

“We’re ready and we’re excited to fly,” McArthur said in the news conference.

Watch the historic spaceflight on NASA’s livestream below.

Watch SpaceX’s recycled Crew Dragon Endeavour fly to space again

crew dragon spaceship orbit earth crew 1 docking international space station
The Resilience capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking on November 16, 2020.

NASA will begin live coverage of the Crew-2 launch at 1:30 a.m. ET on Friday, as the astronauts get suited up in their SpaceX spacesuits. After that, the astronauts will say goodbye to their families, drive to the launchpad in a pair of custom Teslas, ascend the launch tower, and climb aboard Crew Dragon.

With the astronauts strapped in and the spaceship’s hatch sealed shut, the rocket will be loaded with cryogenically chilled propellant. If all goes well, it should roar past the launchpad, toward space at 5:49 a.m. ET.

NASA TV has live coverage of the preparations, launch countdown, and liftoff:

This particular Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavour, is the same one that flew the first commercial spaceflight last year, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS in a demonstration mission. The capsule has since been refurbished and upgraded.

McArthur will pilot the spaceship, just as Behnken (her husband) did last summer.

“I’m going to launch in the same seat. So that is kind of a fun thing that we can share, you know, I can tease him and say, ‘Hey, Can you hand over the keys? I’m ready now to go,'” McArthur recently said in a press call.

The Falcon 9 booster, which is also reusable, is the same one that launched Crew-1 in November.

Friday’s launch was originally set for Thursday morning, but NASA rescheduled because of an unfavorable weather forecast. If weather prevents the flight again on Friday, the agency may have its next launch opportunity on Monday.

After launch, Crew Dragon must orbit Earth and dock to the ISS

crew dragon resilience crew-1 docking international space station spacex nasa
The Resilience capsule docks to the International Space Station on November 16, 2020.

Once the Crew Dragon slips into orbit, it will stay there for nearly 24 hours. The astronauts will likely change out of their spacesuits, eat, get a full night’s sleep, have breakfast, organize their belongings, and, eventually, put their spacesuits back on to prepare for arrival at the ISS.

SpaceX and NASA expect the Crew Dragon to perform a series of automated maneuvers to dock to the ISS around 5:10 a.m. on Saturday. The astronauts have to be suited up in case something goes wrong and the Crew Dragon has to prematurely return to Earth. NASA TV will broadcast the docking operation as well.

crew 1 astronauts crew dragon spaceship
The Crew-2 astronauts during a training session in Hawthorne, California. Left to right: Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, and Akihiko Hoshide.

The ISS will be crowded with 11 people for at least four days while Crew-1 is still on board. Those astronauts – Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi – will climb back into their own Crew Dragon capsule as early as April 28.

Their capsule, called Resilience, will then undock from the ISS, push itself toward Earth, and plummet through the atmosphere. Parachutes should release, allowing the spaceship to drift to a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

The Crew-2 astronauts will return in a similar fashion in about six months.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A SpaceX astronaut family: Megan McArthur is about to pilot the spaceship her husband, Bob Behnken, flew last year

megan mcarthur bob behnken nasa astronauts 2012 rnasa spaceflight achievement awards ceremony nasa
Married NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Bob Behnken present a spaceflight achievement award during a 2012 ceremony.

Last spring, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Megan McArthur took their son to see SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch cargo to the International Space Station. They wanted him to feel the rumble of the rocket’s engines, hear its roar, and follow it out of view – before either of them were on board.

“He could watch a big rocket launch with both mom and dad there, and we could talk to him about it,” McArthur recently told reporters in a call.

Soon thereafter, Theo, who was 6 years old at the time, waved goodbye to his dad, and Behnken climbed into SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship to pilot the world’s first crewed commercial spacecraft. That demonstration mission carried Behnken and his crewmate, astronaut Doug Hurley, to the ISS in May, where they stayed for nine weeks.

Now, McArthur is preparing to pilot that same spaceship on a mission called Crew-2 – SpaceX’s second routine astronaut flight – which is set to launch on Thursday. It’s literally the same capsule, refurbished. Behnken and Hurley named it Endeavour, after the last Space Shuttle.

Getting assigned to the Endeavour was “a neat surprise, and kind of a fun twist on the whole thing,” McArthur said. “I’m going to launch in the same seat. So that is kind of a fun thing that we can share, you know, I can tease him and say, ‘Hey, Can you hand over the keys? I’m ready now to go.'”

McArthur’s been to space once before, to help repair the Hubble Space Telescope, but has never set foot on the space station. She said she’s “super excited” for the mission.

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The Falcon 9 rocket launches with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley from Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 30, 2020.

Still, for Theo, who turns 7 this month, it’s not easy having astronaut parents.

“At first he was trepidatious about it, and said, ‘Hey I don’t want you to launch on a rocket,'” Behnken recently told People. “But after he saw one, he was good with me going and then mommy going, with the stipulation that he gets to go after mom. I don’t know if we can make that happen for him, but that’s his plan at least.”

In the shorter term, being apart is the biggest challenge, McArthur said.

“Like any child facing a parent being gone for six months, he’s not super excited about it,” she said.

When your spouse is 250 miles above Earth

When it came time for Behnken to say goodbye before his launch, NASA TV microphones picked him up telling Theo: “Be good for mom. Make her life easy.”

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Hurley (left) and Behnken (right) say goodbye to their families and give distant “hugs,” May 27, 2020.

But watching your spouse rocket to orbit isn’t easy, according to McArthur.

“One of the hardest things to do is watch the person that you love launch into space,” she told The Washington Post before the liftoff. “It’s much harder than actually doing it yourself when you’re in the rocket. You have the training. You’re prepared for the mission. When you’re watching, you’re just a spectator. And no matter what happens, there’s nothing you can do to contribute to the situation.”

To make matters more difficult, it wasn’t yet clear at the time how long Behnken and Hurley would stay on the space station. They had up to three months in orbit, but they could have left earlier. It depended on NASA’s schedule, and on how well the Crew Dragon’s solar panels held up in space.

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McArthur’s (left) and Behnken’s (right) SpaceX astronaut portraits.

“Probably one of the bigger challenges was, well, when is dad coming home?” McArthur said.

While Behnken was in space, McArthur and Theo could often turn on NASA TV and see him floating around on the ISS. They called him every day from their Houston home, which meant coordinating across time zones. Behnken often wanted to talk before he went to bed, which was when the school day was ending.

“I’ve just got home, I’m putting down the bags, I got to make dinner,” McArthur said. “So finding that right time where you can really engage with one another and connect is part of the challenge.”

They also tried to video chat, but learned that Theo couldn’t stay engaged for an entire hour of that. So for McArthur’s mission, she said, they’ll keep the video visits to 15 or 20 minutes.

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Bob Behnken introduces “Tremor,” the sequined dinosaur plushie that traveled into space aboard the Crew Dragon, May 30, 2020.

McArthur began to train for her own mission while Behnken was still in space. She relied heavily on a babysitter. Then finally, her husband splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico three months after he left the planet. That’s when McArthur really had to start traveling for her own training.

“We gave him about two weeks to get his land legs back, and then I was off,” she said of her husband.

By then, the family was well-acquainted with the training rhythm. Behnken had been involved in the Commercial Crew Program – through which NASA funded the development of SpaceX’s astronaut-launch system – for five years before his mission. The final couple years of that involved intensive training, and he spent several days each week in California.

Then for the last eight months, it’s been mom’s turn to follow a similar schedule. Her time on the ISS will be even longer than Behnken’s.

“Megan being gone for six months will be kind of a unique experience for me. We haven’t been apart for that long a period of a time,” Behnken told People.

The moon may not be in the cards for Behnken or McArthur

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An illustration of SpaceX’s Starship lander that will carry NASA astronauts to the moon’s surface during the Artemis mission.

Behnken and McArthur met at NASA in 2000, when they were both training in that year’s astronaut class. They married eight years later, just before McArthur took her first trip to space.

“I figured it was a pretty good screening program, so you got a full background check,” McArthur told People.

Now, the astronaut couple is paving the way for a new era of human space exploration. Commercial astronaut launches to the space station will likely become common. Both NASA and SpaceX want to return astronauts to the moon and, eventually, send humans to Mars.

“I would love to go to the moon or Mars,” McArthur told Insider. But she added, “I think probably this mission will be my last mission. You know, our family has been through a development program already. And I think that the right thing for our family is for me to complete this mission and move on.”

Another member of the family may take up the mantle eventually, though.

“My son has said that he’s going to go to the moon,” McArthur said. “I’ve asked him, you know, would you mind bringing mom with you? And he said sure.”

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