Miami, Apr 23 (EFE).- NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Friday successfully launched their second operational crewed mission to the International Space Station.
Four astronauts from the United States, France and Japan were sent into orbit from Merritt Island, Florida, as part of the so-called Crew-2 mission and will relieve four Crew-1 members who had been transported to the ISS in November.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 5.53 am local time from the Kennedy Space Center carrying one of the company’s Crew Dragon capsules that is now en route to that microgravity laboratory, where seven other astronauts already are stationed.
Traveling on board the spacecraft are two NASA astronauts, Americans Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur; Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; and France’s Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency.
It marks the first time in 20 years that a NASA, JAXA and ESA crew have carried out a joint space mission.
The first-stage rocket booster – still sooty from its use last November in transporting the Crew-1 team to the ISS – detached from the second stage shortly afterward and then slowly touched down about nine and a half minutes later on SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” autonomous spaceport drone ship stationed off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.
Both the rocket and the Crew Dragon capsule had already been used in previous launches: November’s operational crewed flight and a test launch in May, respectively.
Employing pre-used hardware to lower costs is key to the SpaceX-NASA partnership’s plans to increase the number of flights to the ISS, make greater progress in scientific experiments and advance toward future missions to the Moon and Mars.
Minutes after the booster landed, the rocket’s second stage delivered the Crew Dragon capsule to Earth orbit, where it is now flying on its own, NASA said in its broadcast of the launch.
The agency said the rocket had reached a speed of around 17,000 miles per hour (roughly 27,350 kilometers per hour) as it reached orbit.
NASA added that the capsule will dock with the ISS at approximately 5.10 am local time on Saturday.
The mission to the ISS is the second of at least six that SpaceX will carry out as part of the $2.6 billion contract it signed with NASA in 2014.
Musk, who spoke to reporters after the launch, recalled that he founded SpaceX 19 years ago and expressed pride in being able to work with NASA.
Wearing a cloth bandanna as a face covering, Musk acknowledged that he had not slept a wink due to pre-launch nerves but termed Friday’s mission a dream come true.
“I suppose it does get a little bit easier, but it’s still extremely intense,” he said.
NASA’s acting administrator, Steve Jurczyk, said for his part in a press release that “it has been an incredible year for NASA and our Commercial Crew Program, with three crewed launches to the space station since last May.”
“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,” he added. EFE