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NASA and SpaceX set several 'firsts' on Crew-2 launch to Space Station

Friday, April 23rd 2021, 2:15 pm - This second commercial crew launch carries four astronauts from three international space agencies for a six month stay in orbit.

NASA and SpaceX's Crew-2 mission is delivering four new crew members to orbit for rendezvous with the International Space Station while setting several 'firsts' in the process.

At 5:49 a.m., Friday, April 23, 2021, the pre-dawn sky over Florida's Space Coast lit up as SpaceX's Endeavour Crew Dragon spacecraft blasted off atop a Falcon 9 booster rocket. On board are American astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur (NASA), French astronaut Thomas Pesquet (ESA) and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide (JAXA). After docking on Saturday morning, these four will spend the next six months on board the station, conducting science experiments that are intended to benefit future missions, as well as our lives here on Earth.

Crew-2-launch-Apr23-2021-NASA-SpaceXThe darkness of pre-dawn vanished along the Space Coast on Friday AM, as Crew-2 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA TV

"It has been an incredible year for NASA and our Commercial Crew Program, with three crewed launches to the space station since last May," NASA's Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a statement. "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."

Watch early Saturday morning as the Crew-2 Endeavour spacecraft dock with the International Space Station. The livestream beings at 4:40 a.m. ET on April 24.

While this is the second of SpaceX's commercial crew launches for NASA, the mission features several 'firsts':

  • First reuse of both the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket on a crew mission (Endeavour flew during the Demo-2 mission, and the Falcon 9 booster also launched the Crew-1 mission to orbit),
  • First commercial crew mission to include an ESA astronaut (Thomas Pesquet),
  • First commercial crew mission to include two international partners (ESA and JAXA),
  • First time two commercial crew spacecraft are docked at the same time (Crew-1's Resilience spacecraft is still there until next week),
  • First commercial crew handover between astronauts on the space station (astronauts from Crew-1 and Crew-2 will spend about five days together on station before Crew-1 returns to Earth), and
  • First time two JAXA astronauts will be on the International Space Station simultaneously (Soichi Noguchi flew on the Crew-1 spacecraft and returns next week).

Crew-2 team members NASA SpaceXLeft to right, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide are suited up for their space mission. Credit: NASA

In addition to the crew, Endeavour is also delivering more than 100 kg of cargo, new science hardware for the station, and new science experiments.

According to NASA: "The November 2020 arrival of the Crew-1 astronauts more than doubled crew hours spent on scientific research and support activities, and Crew-2 will continue the important investigations and technology demonstrations that are preparing for future Artemis missions to the Moon, helping us improve our understanding of Earth's climate, and improving life on our home planet. An important scientific focus on this expedition is continuing a series of Tissue Chips in Space studies. Tissue chips are small models of human organs containing multiple cell types that behave much the same as they do in the body. Another important element of Crew-2's mission is augmenting the station's solar power system by installing the first pair of six new ISS Roll-out Solar Arrays."

Among the new science experiments arriving on Endeavour is one named CHIME, which stands for Characterizing Human Immunodeficiency in Microgravity Environments. It is a university student-led investigation out of New York University Abu Dhabi, to study why astronaut immune responses are suppressed in microgravity environments. In addition to helping future space missions, the results of this study may also help those with compromised immune systems on Earth.

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