NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 astronauts are in orbit following their early morning launch bound for the International Space Station for the second commercial crew rotation mission aboard the microgravity laboratory. The international crew of astronauts lifted off at 5:49 a.m. EDT Friday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled the Crew Dragon spacecraft with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, into orbit to begin a six-month science mission on the space station.
During Crew Dragon’s flight, SpaceX will command the spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, California, and NASA teams will monitor space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“It has been an incredible year for NASA and our Commercial Crew Program, with three crewed launches to the space station since last May,” said NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “This is another important milestone for NASA, SpaceX, and our international partners at ESA and JAXA, and for the future of scientific research on board the space station. It will be an exciting moment to see our crews greet one another on station for our first crew handover under the Commercial Crew Program.”
The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, will dock autonomously to the forward port of the station’s Harmony module about 5:10 a.m. Saturday, April 24. NASA Television, the NASA App, and the agency’s website are providing ongoing live coverage through docking, hatch opening, and the ceremony to welcome the crew aboard the orbital outpost.
“I’m really proud of the SpaceX team and honored to be partnered with NASA and helping JAXA and ESA as well,” said Elon Musk, Chief Engineer at SpaceX. “We’re thrilled to be a part of advancing human spaceflight and looking forward to going beyond Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars and helping make humanity a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species one day.”
The Crew-2 mission is the second of six crewed missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This mission has several firsts, including:
- First commercial crew mission to fly two international partners;
- First commercial crew handover between astronauts on the space station as Crew-1 and Crew-2 astronauts will spend about five days together on station before Crew-1 returns to Earth;
- First reuse of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket on a crew mission –Crew Dragon Endeavour flew the historic Demo-2 mission and the Falcon 9 flew astronauts on the Crew-1 mission; and,
- First time two commercial crew spacecraft will be docked to station at the same time.
“When I see a launch I immediately think of what it took to reach this milestone and the dedication of all the people who made it happen,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “There’s obviously a long way to go, but now we can celebrate the Crew-2 launch and look forward to seeing them join their other Expedition 65 colleagues as we prepare to bring Crew-1 home next week.”
Kimbrough, McArthur, Hoshide, and Pesquet will join the Expedition 65 crew of Shannon Walker, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Mark Vande Hei of NASA, as well as Soichi Noguchi of JAXA and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov. For a short time, the number of crew on the space station will increase to 11 people until Crew-1 astronauts Walker, Hopkins, Glover, and Noguchi return a few days later.
The is the second commercial crew mission to fly a JAXA astronaut. When Hoshide joins astronaut Noguchi during the commercial crew handover period, it will mark the first time two JAXA astronauts are on station at the same time.
“I am extremely honored to witness the successful launch today. It is my utmost pleasure and also for Japan that Japanese astronauts Soichi Noguchi and Aki Hoshide boarded the operational spacecraft of Crew Dragon twice in a row,” said Hiroshi Sasaki, Vice President for Human Spaceflight and Space Exploration. “I believe this is brought by the many years of close cooperation cultivated amongst the international partners, especially between U.S. and Japan through the ISS program. I hope Aki will play an integral role as the second Japanese ISS commander along with his colleague astronauts, creating fruitful outcomes and expanding the human frontier to the Lunar Gateway, the surface of the Moon and even beyond.”
Crew-2 also is the first commercial crew mission to fly an ESA astronaut. Pesquet is the first of three ESA crew members assigned to fly to station on commercial crew spacecraft, kicking off a continuous stay of ESA astronauts on the space station for about a year and a half – in total – for the first time in more than 20 years.
“This is a thrilling time for human spaceflight and this new success of the Commercial Crew Program embodies it – congratulations once again to NASA and SpaceX,” said David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA. “Starting with astronaut Thomas Pesquet, ESA is delighted to join this new space station chapter, paving the way to the future of exploration side by side with diverse partners. Six months of excellent science and state-of-the-art technology demonstrations now await him, and we know he cannot wait to start working.”