Astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide, and Thomas Pesquet are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) after the successful launch of Crew-2 at 5:40 EDT this morning. This is the second operational flight out of a series of six crewed flights to the ISS that NASA has contracted with SpaceX.
This marks the first time that SpaceX has reused a Crew Dragon that previously flew a crew. This spacecraft was previously used to fly the Demo-2 astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, in May 2020. Demo-2 splashed down last August.
Data from Demo-2 was used to make improvements to the Crew Dragon. Most notably, the heat shield was reinforced after post-flight inspections revealed greater wear and tear than expected in some places. SpaceX also added a viewing port through which the Crew-2 astronauts reported seeing the Falcon 9’s second stage after separation.
Crew-2 is the first to feature two of the International Space Station’s international partners besides NASA’s astronauts. Akihiko Hoshide represents Japan’s JAXA and Thomas Pesquet represents the European Space Agency. Crew-1 included a single international partner, JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi.
When they arrive early in the morning of April 24, they will begin the first handover between Commercial Crew astronauts onboard the International Space Station. Crew-1 is expected to return home a few days after Crew-2’s arrival. Earlier this month, Crew-1 moved its Crew Dragon to another port so that Crew-2 could dock to the International Space Station’s zenith port. While both crews and the Expedition 65 crew are on board, the space station will host a record-setting eleven astronauts.
Crew-2 is expected to spend six months on the ISS, conducting valuable research and maintenance. One especially valuable experiment is referred to as “Tissue Chips in Space.” Tissue chips are miniature replicas of organs and tissues that can be used for research in environments like the International Space Station. The Tissue Chips in Space experiment will study the effects of microgravity on the immune system, lung immune response, musculoskeletal disease, kidney function, and the muscle loss that astronauts typically go through on long-duration space missions. Microgravity is often used to simulate the effects of aging and may lead to the development of new therapeutics that can address ailments that are most often seen in seniors.
Crew-2 will also install the new ISS Roll-out Solar Array as part of upgrades to the station’s solar array. The new solar array can unroll like a yoga mat and was developed as part of NASA Small Business Innovation Research program.
The final docking for Demo-2 is expected to occur at about 5:10 am on April 24, with a welcome party scheduled to begin at 7:45 am. The welcome party will include NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders, JAXA Vice President and Director-General Hiroshi Sasaki, and ESA International Space Station Program Manager Frank de Winne. It will be streamed live on NASA TV.
In the below NASA TV video, NASA continues live coverage of the Crew-2’s journey to the International Space Station.