Recycled rockets, capsule used by SpaceX to launch four astronauts into orbit
Posted By : Gaurav Kaul | Date : Apr 28 2021 5:37 PM
SpaceX launched four astronauts into orbit on Friday using a recycled rocket and capsule, the third crew flight in less than a year for Elon Musk’s rapidly expanding company, foreign media reported.
The astronauts from the US, Japan, and France should reach the International Space Station early Saturday morning, following a 23-hour ride in the same Dragon capsule used by SpaceX’s debut crew last May. They’ll spend six months at the orbiting lab.
It was the first time SpaceX reused a capsule and rocket to launch astronauts for NASA, after years of proving the capability on station supply runs. The rocket was used last November on the company’s second astronaut flight.
Embracing the trend, spacecraft commander Shane Kimbrough and his crew weeks ago wrote their initials in the rocket’s soot, hoping to start a tradition.
“If you have rapid and complete reusability, then that is the gateway to the heavens. That's what we're trying to get done, and the support of NASA makes a huge difference,” Musk said after the launch.
Just a week ago, NASA awarded SpaceX a nearly $3 billion contract to provide the lunar lander that will deliver astronauts to the surface of the moon — Musk's Starship, intended to be fully reusable to attain his ultimate prize of carrying astronauts to Mars and building a city there.
Flying in a recycled capsule Friday provided a bit of deja vu for NASA astronaut Megan McArthur. She launched in the same seat in the same capsule as her husband, Bob Behnken, did during SpaceX's first crew flight. This time, it was Behnken and their 7-year-old son waving goodbye. McArthur blew kisses and offered virtual hugs.
Also flying SpaceX on Friday: Japan's Akihiko Hoshide and France's Thomas Pesquet, the first European to launch in a commercial crew capsule.
It was a stunning scene: The launch plume glowed against the dark sky, reflecting the sunlight at high altitude.
"You're seeing a piece of history happening here," said Lance Bryan, visiting from Burnsville, Minnesota. "It's, in this case, good history versus some other things that can happen that have been in our backyard practically."
NASA limited the number of launch guests because of COVID-19, but passengers for SpaceX's first privately purchased flight cut. Tech billionaire Jared Isaacman, who's bought a three-day flight, watched the Falcon soar with the three people who will accompany him. Their capsule is still at the space station and due back on Earth with four astronauts next Wednesday. It will be refurbished in time for a September lift-off. Another crew flight for NASA will follow in October.
For Friday's automated flight, SpaceX replaced some valves and thermal shielding and installed new parachutes on the capsule, named Endeavour after NASA's retired space shuttle. Otherwise, the spacecraft is the same vehicle that flew before.
"We're thrilled to have a crew onboard Endeavour once again," SpaceX Launch Control radioed just before liftoff.
All four astronauts clasped hands as Kimbrough noted it was the first time in more than 20 years that U.S., European and Japanese astronauts had launched together.
The first-stage booster touched down on an ocean platform nine minutes after lift-off.
SpaceX picked up the station slack for NASA after the space agency's shuttles retired in 2011, starting with supply runs the following year. The big draw was last year's return of astronaut launches to Florida, after years of relying on Russia for rides.
"It's awesome to have this regular cadence again," said Kennedy's director Robert Cabana, a former shuttle commander.