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SpaceX Successfully Launches Crew-2 Mission for NASA

This is the first time SpaceX launched four astronauts to the ISS with a reused Dragon Capsule.

SpaceX Successfully Launches Crew-2 Mission for NASA
The launch of Crew-2's Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon capsule NASA/YouTube

SpaceX successfully launched its third crewed — second fully operational — mission to the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:49 EDT (9:49 UTC) on Friday, April 23. The astronauts will now undergo a roughly day-long trip to rendezvous with the ISS.

The Crew-2 mission launched a 4-astronaut crew aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket, including two NASA astronauts, one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the first European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut to fly on a SpaceX launch.

In a week of historic firsts, the launch marks the first time humans fly aboard a reused crew capsule — Crew-2's Dragon capsule, dubbed "Endeavor", first flew in May for SpaceX's historic first astronaut mission.

UPDATE April 23, 5:51 AM EDT: Stage 1 separation

Shortly after launching from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, the first stage successfully separated from the Falcon 9 rocket sending the Crew Dragon capsule on its way to the International Space Station (ISS). 

“Of the Earth, for the Earth, Endeavor is ready to go,” said mission commander Shane Kimbrough minutes before launch.

UPDATE April 23, 6:00 AM EDT: 1st Stage nails droneship landing

The Crew-2 mission's Falcon 9 rocket first stage successfully landed on the drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" on the Atlantic Ocean. The same first-stage booster launched the Crew-1 mission.

SpaceX announced in a tweet that this constituted its "80th landing of an orbital class rocket booster." 

UPDATE April 23, 6:02 AM EDT: Crew Dragon capsule separates, setting Crew-2 astronauts off on a 23-hour journey

“We’ll send our regards to Crew-1 when we get there,” Kimbrough said shortly after the "Endeavor" Crew Dragon capsule separated from the Falcon 9's second stage. 

The astronauts are now going to open their visors to get comfortable for the long journey ahead — autonomous docking of "Endeavor" with the ISS is scheduled for approximately 5:10 EDT (9:10 UTC) tomorrow, April 24.

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Once aboard the ISS, the Crew-2 astronauts will conduct science and maintenance during a six-month stay aboard the space station — they will return no earlier than Oct. 31.

NASA TV narrators are looking out for another toy zero-G indicator — odds on another Baby Yoda?

UPDATE April 23, 6:14 AM EDT: Crew-2 'zero-G indicator' confirmed to be a penguin

In a super important update, NASA TV showed footage of this launch's "zero-G indicator" — typically known as a "toy" to us mere mortals on Earth.

SpaceX Successfully Launches Crew-2 Mission for NASA
The fluffy penguin "zero-G indicator" floating around the inside of the Dragon capsule. Source: SpaceX/YouTube

This means that every crewed SpaceX launch has carried a toy up to the ISS since the Demo-2 launch in May of last year — Demo-2 famously carried a dinosaur plush, whilst the Crew-1 mission had a Baby Yoda toy aboard.

JAXA astronaut and Mission Specialist on Crew-2 Aki Hoshide has since confirmed that the penguin toy abroad the Crew Dragon capsule is called "GuinGuin."

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UPDATE April 23, 7:45 AM EDT: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk 'thrilled to be part of advancing human spaceflight'

During a post-launch news conference, a bandana-clad Elon Musk said he's looking forward to making humanity a "spacefaring civilization and a multi-planetary species."

The SpaceX CEO stated we should be aiming to have a permanently occupied lunar base, as it's almost half a century since humans were last on the Moon. Musk also claimed Starship may be "ready to fly people in a couple years" — though he acknowledged he does "tend to be somewhat optimistic with respect to schedules."

NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk echoed the sentiment by stating that the ISS is not only an important cornerstone for scientific investigation, it is also a stepping stone for future human space exploration missions.

Kathryn Lueders, NASA human spaceflight program leader, pointed to the US space agency's upcoming Artemis I uncrewed test flight as a sign of the agency's ambition.

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UPDATE April 23, 8:01 AM EDT: Crew-2 astronauts check in from Crew Dragon capsule during the second lap of Earth

The Crew-2 astronauts checked in from orbit aboard the Crew Dragon capsule, two hours into their 23-hour journey to the ISS — during which the capsule and the space station's orbits will gradually align as they rotate around the Earth.

The crew, who have removed their spacesuits, were flying over South Africa at the time. Video (above) from the check-in includes a tour of the Crew Dragon capsule. The entire livestreamed launch event can be viewed via NASA TV below.

Meet the Crew-2 astronauts

The Crew-2 mission is notable for taking the first European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut, Thomas Pesquet, up to the ISS on a SpaceX launch vehicle. 

In an interview with Interesting Engineering in March, Pesquet explained how the Crew-2 astronauts will "execute hundreds of experiments" on the ISS over the coming six months and how they will at times act as "the hands" for scientists back on Earth.

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SpaceX Successfully Launches Crew-2 Mission for NASA
The crew suited up and ready prior to launch. From left to right: Thomas Pesquet, K. Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, Aki Hoshide. Source: SpaceX/Twitter

The Crew-2 mission is led by NASA veteran and Spacecraft Commander Shane Kimbrough. Mission Specialist Aki Hoshide joined the mission as the second JAXA astronaut to go up to the ISS on a SpaceX launch.

NASA Astronaut K. Megan McArthur is the fourth crew member — she travels on the same Dragon capsule that launched her husband Bob Behnken up to the ISS in SpaceX's first human spaceflight in May 2020.

NASA caps historic week with list of Crew-2 mission 'firsts'

In a week that saw NASA announce the historic first controlled flight on Mars, as well as the first extraction of breathable oxygen on the red planet, the Crew-2 mission also broke new ground. NASA shared a blog post detailing some of those "firsts."

The Crew-2 mission is the first commercial crew mission to fly two international partners — JAXA and ESA. It is the first commercial crew handover between astronauts on the space station, as the Crew-1 and Crew-2 astronauts will spend approximately five days aboard the ISS together before the Crew-1 astronauts return to Earth on Endeavor.

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As already mentioned, it is also the first reuse of the Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket on a crewed mission. Finally, it is the first time two commercial crew spacecraft will be docked to the station at the same time.

The Crew-2 launch comes during an exciting period for NASA, SpaceX, and indeed space exploration — just last week, NASA announced a partnership with SpaceX to take humans to the Moon, with 2024 set as the goal for the first mission.

This was a breaking news story and was updated as new details emerged.

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