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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

SpaceX Crew-2 astronauts were ‘hooting and giggling’ as they rocketed into orbit

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

Spaceflight is serious business: Getting people from Earth into orbit safely requires precise planning and execution. But that doesn’t mean astronauts can’t have a little fun while they’re launching into space.

As part of its latest Crew-2 mission, SpaceX rocketed four astronauts toward the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon spaceship Friday morning. The successful launch inspired some joyful noise from the Crew-2 astronauts.

“The ride was really smooth. We couldn’t have asked for anything better,” NASA astronaut and pilot Megan McArthur said during a live video tour of Crew Dragon in orbit. “There may have been some hooting and giggling up here while all that was going on.”

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off with the Crew-2 mission on April 23, 2021.

Using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon blasted off NASA’s Kennedy Space Center launchpad in Florida at 5:49 a.m. ET as the sun rose. Just 12 minutes later, the spaceship fully separated from the rocket and slipped into orbit.

“We chased the sun pretty quickly and caught up with it just a few minutes after we took off,” NASA astronaut and mission commander Shane Kimbrough said. “That was pretty special to see the sunlight coming in.”

A tight-knit crew of seasoned astronauts

This isn’t McArthur and Kimbrough’s first space voyage. The two NASA astronauts – and their crewmates Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency – have rocketed into orbit before.

“It’s great to be back in space again after a few years for me,” McArthur said. The last time she was in space was more than a decade ago, when she helped upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009.

“I’m like a baby bird here, relearning how to move around in microgravity and it feels really good but it feels a little bit weird too,” McArthur said.

Crew-2 marks Kimbrough’s and Hoshide’s third space mission, and Pesquet’s second. All together, the four of them have logged more than 500 days in space.

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

The four-person crew spent almost a year training for the mission: a shorter training timeline than previous crewed SpaceX missions.

“It’s a little less than a year of training, where the crews in front of us had several years of training,” Kimbrough said during an April 17 press conference.

The crew spent time relaxing together on a beach near the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday.

At 1:30 a.m. ET Friday, the astronauts suited up in their SpaceX spacesuits. Then they said goodbye to their families, drove to the launchpad, ascended the launch tower, and climbed aboard the spaceship. After more than four hours of pre-flight checks and preparation, they took off.

Traveling on a recycled spaceship

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The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon are rolled out to the launchpad on April 16, 2021.

This was the first SpaceX mission to launch astronauts on a reused spaceship.

Crew Dragon became the first – and, so far, the only – commercial vehicle to carry humans into space last May, when NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken took it on a two-month test flight to the ISS. That mission, called Demo-2, was the first time a US spacecraft had launched people from US soil since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

The Falcon 9 rocket booster was also recycled – another first for SpaceX’s crewed flights. It’s the same booster that launched the preceding SpaceX mission, Crew-1, in November. Reusing ships and boosters enables more efficient and lower-cost travel beyond Earth.

Despite being used again, both Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 performed beautifully.

“The ride up was fantastic,” Pesquet said during the live tour of the ship.

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The Resilience capsule docks to the International Space Station on November 16, 2020.

“As you can see it’s pretty roomy,” he said, adding: “The inside is very comfy and we feel very well protected.”

SpaceX and NASA expect the Crew Dragon to rendezvous with the ISS around 5:10 a.m. ET on Saturday, joining seven other astronauts already up there.

NASA has contracted four more SpaceX flights like this one. Crew Dragon is poised to carry the first civilian spaceflight in history, called Inspiration-4, in September.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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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Astronauts on the space station just flew SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to a new port – a first for the spaceship

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The Crew Dragon Resilience undocks from the forward port of the International Space Station on April 5, 2021.

SpaceX’s first full astronaut crew successfully maneuvered its Crew Dragon spaceship to a new port on the International Space Station on Monday. It was the first time the vehicle had attempted the maneuver.

Called a port relocation, the process required the spaceship to back away from the ISS port where it had been since it arrived at the orbiting laboratory in November, then fly to a different, space-facing port, and dock there instead. Russian Soyuz vehicles have conducted port-relocation maneuvers 15 times in the past, but no astronauts had ever done it in a commercial spacecraft before.

The spaceship reshuffling cleared the way for SpaceX’s next Crew Dragon capsule to arrive at the ISS. That mission, called Crew-2, is set to launch on April 22, bringing four more astronauts to the space station.

The four astronauts on the mission that’s currently in orbit, Crew-1, are set to return to Earth about five days after Crew-2 arrives. In the overlap time, there will be two Crew Dragons attached to the ISS – and a crowded house of 11 people in space.

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A Dragon cargo capsule docks at the ISS on December 7, 2020, alongside a Crew Dragon capsule that carried astronauts three weeks prior.

Now that NASA is commissioning regular astronaut flights from both SpaceX and Russia’s Soyuz launch system, the ISS is expected to be more crowded on a regular basis. Future Crew Dragons will likely need to switch ports, too, especially if Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship joins the mix later this year. SpaceX and Boeing both developed their spaceships through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition meant to spur the development of commercial alternatives to Soyuz.

“The space station has become the spaceport we want it to be, with vehicles flying to it and returning science and payloads and doing amazing things on orbit,” Kathy Leuders, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in a March press briefing.

Watch the Crew Dragon switch parking spots

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NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 crew members in the Crew Dragon spacecraft during training. From left to right: NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

In preparation for port relocation, the Crew-1 astronauts – NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi – changed into their spacesuits early Monday morning. Spacesuits are required for docking and undocking maneuvers, in case anything goes wrong and the spaceship’s cabin is compromised.

SpaceX also had a recovery ship stationed near splashdown sites in the Atlantic Ocean, in case the Crew Dragon had to deorbit and plunge back to Earth.

But everything seemed to go smoothly. The astronauts climbed aboard the Crew Dragon capsule, which they’ve named “Resilience,” checked for air-pressure leaks, then instructed the spaceship to begin the fully automated maneuver. The hooks keeping Resilience attached to the space station’s forward port retracted at 6:30 a.m. ET, undocking the spaceship from the ISS. The vehicle then fired its thrusters to back away.

Over the next 30 minutes, while circling the Earth at about 5 miles per second, Resilience moved above the ISS and aligned itself with the station’s space-facing zenith port. It docked there at 7:08 a.m. ET.

NASA broadcast the maneuver in the video below. Undocking starts at about 30:45.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and her Russian colleagues, Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, also performed their own port relocation on March 19. They moved their Soyuz spaceship from the Earth-facing port of the Russian module on the ISS to its space-facing port. That leaves the former open for the next Soyuz spaceship to bring up three more astronauts on April 9.

Unlike Crew Dragon, however, Soyuz has to be maneuvered manually.

After Crew-1 returns to Earth, an uncrewed Cargo Dragon spaceship carrying new solar panels for the ISS is set to take its place on the zenith port.

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SpaceX to launch billionaire Jared Isaacman into space with a mission of 3 private astronauts on the Crew Dragon

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Jared Isaacman at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California.

  • Billionaire Jared Isaacman has bought seats on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship to launch himself, a healthcare worker and two others — to be selected via sweepstakes — into orbit in late 2021.
  • The mission, called Inspiration4, will be the first ever to fly a crew of people who aren’t professional astronauts into space.
  • “The risk is not zero,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said, but this is a big step toward making spaceflight affordable and accessible.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX is planning a first-of-its-kind spaceflight for the end of this year: launching a crew of people who aren’t professional astronauts into Earth’s orbit.

The mission is called Inspiration4. SpaceX announced on Monday that it’s targeting the fourth quarter of 2021 for launch, after 37-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman bought a four-person flight aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship.

Isaacman founded the payment processing company Shift4 Payments in 1999, and in 2011 co-founded Draken International, which owns an expansive fleet of fighter jets and trains pilots for the US military. Though he says he has spent over 6,000 hours flying jets and ex-military aircraft, he has never been to space. Neither have the three people he plans to put in the Dragon’s other seats.

That will make Inspiration4 the first mission in history to fly an entirely private commercial crew.

“This is an important milestone towards enabling access to space for everyone,” Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, said in a call with reporters on Monday. “Because at first things are very expensive, and it is only through missions like this that we’re able to bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all.”

elon musk space x SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk speaks in front of Crew Dragon cleanroom at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019. (Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Elon Musk speaks in front of Crew Dragon cleanroom at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019.

Isaacman has already selected his first crew member: an unnamed woman who is a healthcare worker. She will serve as an “ambassador” for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is benefitting from a fundraising effort that will help select the second crew member. That person will be chosen from a month-long sweepstakes aiming to raise $100 million for childhood-cancer research at St. Jude, in addition to a $100-million donation from Isaacman.

“If we’re going to continue making advances up there in space, then we have an obligation to do the same down here on Earth,” Isaacman said during the call.

The third Inspiration4 seat will go to an entrepreneur who creates an online store for their business using Isaacman’s company’s ecommerce service, Shift4Shop.

Requirements for eligibility include being 18 or older and being a US resident. Potential crew members will also undergo a basic medical screening, Musk said.

“If you can go on a roller coaster ride, like an intense roller coaster ride, you should be fine for flying on Dragon,” he added.

The crew selections are to be announced by the end of February. Then, the crew will immediately begin SpaceX’s astronaut-training program, with Isaacman making some additions inspired by his mountain-climbing experience.

“I intend to get four people in a tent that I can attest is absolutely smaller than the Dragon spacecraft, on a mountain when it’s snowing out, and introduce everybody to some really stressful situations,” Isaacman said. “We are all going to know each other incredibly well long before we ever strap into Dragon.”

‘Pioneers’ of a new era of private space exploration

SpaceX launched the first-ever commercial spaceflight in May 2020, rocketing NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on a demonstration mission called Demo-2.

After the Crew Dragon safely returned Behnken and Hurley to Earth, parachuting them into the Gulf of Mexico two months after their launch, SpaceX began the first of six ISS-rotation missions that NASA contracted from the company.

The Crew-1 mission launched SpaceX’s first full crew of four astronauts in November, aboard a Dragon capsule named Resilience, which remains attached to the ISS until the astronauts return in spring.

That’s the spaceship that SpaceX plans to give Isaacman for his mission later this year.

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The Resilience capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking, November 16, 2020.

“Any mission where there’s a crew onboard makes me nervous,” Musk told NBC News’s Tom Costello in an interview that aired on Monday. “The risk is not zero.”

“When you’ve got a brand new mode of transportation, you have to have pioneers,” he added.

Inspiration4 is set to launch aboard a Falcon 9 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket should push the capsule into Earth’s orbit, where it will orbit at whatever altitude Isaacman wants, for as long as Isaacman wants.

“Where do you want to go? We’ll take you there,” Musk said to him during Monday’s call, adding, “You can change your mind too.”

For now, the plan is to orbit at the ISS altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) for two to four days, according to Isaacman and Musk. It’s not yet clear what they will do with their time in space. Isaacman said it will involve “some experiments” for research institutions like St. Jude, but he declined to elaborate.

“We’re going to release details in the near future as to the payload and experiments that we hope to bring on board,” he said.

Via missions like these, Musk hopes that the cost of spaceflight with SpaceX will drop “exponentially” over time, since they will help fund the development of his company’s Starship-Super Heavy launch system. SpaceX is designing and test-launching prototypes of that future system at its facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. Musk wants the final launch system – which may stand 120 meters (394 feet) tall – to be fully reusable.

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SpaceX’s Starship serial No. 8 rocket-ship prototype launches from a pad in Boca Chica, Texas, on December 9, 2020.

If it works, Starship might slash the cost of reaching space about 1,000-fold, power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, and fly astronauts to the moon. Musk’s ultimate plan is to build 1,000 Starships, use them to fly people and cargo to Mars, and build an independent, self-sustaining city there.

“The key to being affordable to all is full and rapid reusability, so that would be with the Starship program,” he said.

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