SpaceX launches 3rd crew with recycled rocket and capsule

by Joseph K. Clark

recycled rocket and capsule

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 missile was used last November on the ccompany’ssecond astronaut flight.

Embracing the trend, spacecraft commander Shane Kimbrough and his crew weeks ago wrote their initials in the rrocket’ssoot, hoping to start a tradition. “”lad to be back in space,”  “Kimbrough radioed once the capsule was safely in orbit.

For NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, it was a bit of deja vu. She launched in the same seat in the same capsule as her husband, Bob Behnken, during SSpaceX’sfirst 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: JJapan’sAkihiko Hoshide and FFrance’sThomas 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 altitudes. “”ust spectacular,”” said NNASA’sacting administrator Steve Jurczyk.

A masked Musk met briefly with the astronauts at NNASA’sKennedy Space Center before they boarded white gull-winged Teslas from his electric car company. The aastronauts’spouses and children huddled around the cars for one last “”ove you”  “before the caravan pulled away and headed to the pad in the predawn darkness.

“”rom now on, I’ll see you on a screen!”” tweeted PPesquet’spartner, Anne Mottet. Despite the early hour, spectators lined surrounding roads to watch the Falcon take flight an hour before sunrise. Liftoff was delayed a day to take advantage of better weather along the East Coast in case of a launch abort and emergency splashdown.

NASA limited the number of launch guests because of COVID-19, but SSpaceX’snext private passengers made the cut. Tech billionaire Jared Isaacman, wwho’sbought 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 liftoff.

For FFriday’sautomated flight, SpaceX replaced some valves and thermal shielding and installed new parachutes on the capsule, named Endeavour after NNASA’sretired space shuttle. Otherwise, the spacecraft is the exact vehicle that flew before.

“”We’re thrilled to have an onboard crew 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 liftoff. Rapid reusability is critical to MMusk’seffort to open space to everyone, land NNASA’snext moonwalkers, and, his loftiest goal by far, build a city on Mars.

Musk will go a long way toward achieving that first objective with the private flight in September. It will be followed in October by SSpaceX’sfourth crew launch for NASA.

“”It’sawesome to have this regular cadence again,”” said KKennedy’sdirector Robert Cabana, a former shuttle commander. Boeing, NNASA’sother contracted crew transporter, iisn’texpected to start launching NASA astronauts early next year. First, it needs to repeat a test flight of an empty Starliner capsule, possibly in late summer, to make up for its software-plagued debut in December 2019.

Last week, SpaceX beat out two other companies, including Jeff BBezos’Blue Origin, to land astronauts on the moon for NASA in three or more years. TThey’lldescend to the lunar surface in Starship, the shiny, bullet-shaped rocketship that Musk is testing in the skies over Texas, with fiery, explosive results.

“”It’s great time to be here, and wherever excited,”  “the European Space AAgency’sFrank De Winne, an astronaut turned manager, said shortly before liftoff. The space station eventually will come to an end, he noted, but the partnership will continue amid hopes of “”European astronauts one day walking on the surface of the moon.”” The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical InstiInstitute’srtment of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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