Texas: A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft — carrying four astronauts from three countries — docked with the International Space Station on early Saturday morning Eastern Time, beginning the crew’s six-month stay in space.
CNN reported that this mission, dubbed Crew-2, marks the third-ever crewed flight for Elon Musk’s company and the first to make use of a previously flown, privately-owned rocket booster and spacecraft.
The astronauts took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida Friday morning and spent nearly 24 hours soaring through orbit at more than 17,000 miles per hour, as their Crew Dragon spacecraft manoeuvred toward the ISS, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth.
“Welcome to the @Space_Station, Crew-2! Their arrival means there are now 11 humans aboard our orbiting laboratory, a number not seen since the space shuttle era. Hugs abound,” NASA wrote on Twitter, attaching a video of the newcomers being welcomed by their station colleagues.
On Saturday morning (local time), the capsule slowly aligned itself and moved in to dock directly with one of the space station’s ports.
CNN further reported that the crew consists of NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, and Akihiko Hoshide with Japan’s JAXA space agency.
According to an official statement, a prime focus of the astronauts’ mission will be research with “tissue chips,” or “small models of human organs containing multiple cell types that behave much the same as they do in the body” and that NASA hopes will advance the development of drugs and vaccines.
That work will build on years of studying biological and other scientific phenomena aboard the ISS, where the microgravity environment can give scientists a better fundamental understanding of how something works.
According to CNN, Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet, and Hoshide joined seven astronauts already on board the station, four of whom arrived on a different SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in November bringing the space station’s current total of personnel to 11 — one of the largest crews the ISS has ever hosted. But that number will quickly drop back down to seven when four of the astronauts who’d been on board hitch a ride home from the station on April 28.
According to Sputnik, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is the first commercial spacecraft certified by NASA as being capable of delivering human crews to the ISS. The spacecraft is reusable so that many of its components can be recovered and reused in future flights. This is the second crew rotation flight of Crew Dragon to the ISS.