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Watch SpaceX launch 4 astronauts aboard a recycled Crew Dragon spaceship for NASA on Friday

Morgan McFall-Johnsen
·4-min read
crew 2 astronauts spacex nasa
The Crew-2 astronauts pose during a training session at the SpaceX training facility in Hawthorne, California. SpaceX

Update: The Crew-2 mission successfully launched into Earth's orbit early Friday morning. Read more in our story about the launch.

SpaceX is rocketing four astronauts toward the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday morning.

The company's Crew Dragon spaceship is the first and only commercial vehicle to carry people into space. It's now a cornerstone of NASA's human spaceflight program.

Friday's mission, called Crew-2, is the second routine astronaut flight that SpaceX is conducting for NASA. The agency has contracted six Crew Dragon missions in total. The first one, Crew-1, is still on the ISS. Those astronauts will be welcoming the four newcomers: Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency.

SpaceX NASA
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39-A at Kennedy Space Center. Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

"We want this to become a regular way to get to the space station, which means, I don't know, down the line hundreds of launches maybe," Pesquet said during a March news conference.

The astronauts have ascended a launch tower to the top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and climbed aboard the Crew Dragon capsule that's secured to the top. They're set to roar into space at 5:49 a.m. ET on Friday.

"We're ready and we're excited to fly," McArthur said in the news conference.

Watch the historic spaceflight on NASA's livestream below.

Watch SpaceX's recycled Crew Dragon Endeavour fly to space again

NASA TV has live coverage of the preparations, launch countdown, and liftoff:

NASA's live coverage of the Crew-2 launch began at 1:30 a.m. ET on Friday, as the astronauts got suited up in their SpaceX spacesuits. After that, the astronauts said goodbye to their families, drove to the launchpad in a pair of custom Teslas, ascended the launch tower, and climbed aboard Crew Dragon.

With the astronauts strapped in and the spaceship's hatch sealed shut, the rocket will be loaded with cryogenically chilled propellant in the 35 minutes before liftoff. If all goes well, it should roar past the launchpad, toward space at 5:49 a.m. ET.

This particular Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavour, is the same one that flew the first commercial spaceflight last year, carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS in a demonstration mission. The capsule has since been refurbished and upgraded.

McArthur will pilot the spaceship, just as Behnken (her husband) did last summer.

crew dragon spaceship orbit earth crew 1 docking international space station
The Resilience capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking, November 16, 2020. NASA

"I'm going to launch in the same seat. So that is kind of a fun thing that we can share, you know, I can tease him and say, 'Hey, Can you hand over the keys? I'm ready now to go,'" McArthur recently said in a press call.

The Falcon 9 booster, which is also reusable, is the same one that launched Crew-1 in November.

Friday's launch was originally set for Thursday morning, but NASA rescheduled because of an unfavorable weather forecast. If weather prevents the flight again on Friday, the agency may have its next launch opportunity on Monday.

After launch, Crew Dragon must orbit Earth and dock to the ISS

crew dragon resilience crew-1 docking international space station spacex nasa
The Resilience capsule docks to the International Space Station on November 16, 2020. NASA/SpaceX

Once the Crew Dragon slips into orbit, it will stay there for nearly 24 hours. The astronauts will likely change out of their spacesuits, eat, get a full night's sleep, have breakfast, organize their belongings, and, eventually, put their spacesuits back on to prepare for arrival at the ISS.

SpaceX and NASA expect the Crew Dragon to perform a series of automated maneuvers to dock to the ISS around 5:10 a.m. on Saturday. The astronauts have to be suited up in case something goes wrong and the Crew Dragon has to prematurely return to Earth. NASA TV will broadcast the docking operation as well.

crew 2 astronauts crew dragon spaceship
The Crew-2 astronauts during a training session in Hawthorne, California. Left to right: Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, and Akihiko Hoshide. SpaceX

The ISS will be crowded with 11 people for at least four days while Crew-1 is still on board. Those astronauts - Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi - will climb back into their own Crew Dragon capsule as early as April 28.

Their capsule, called Resilience, will then undock from the ISS, push itself toward Earth, and plummet through the atmosphere. Parachutes should release, allowing the spaceship to drift to a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

The Crew-2 astronauts will return in a similar fashion in about six months.

Read the original article on Business Insider