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SpaceX launches NASA astronauts on recycled rocket for first time

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NASA and Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX made history Friday, propelling a team of astronauts into orbit on a recycled rocket and capsule previously used on a space mission.

The spacecraft took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Friday morning and is headed to the International Space Station — where they will begin a six-month stay.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launched into the dark, pre-dawn sky atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled by its nine engines. The 5:49 a.m. blastoff was aired live on NASA TV.

The 23-hour flight will transport the crew — which consists of American NASA astronauts, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, as well as Japanese astronaut Akihko Hoshide and French engineer Thomas Pesquet — to the space station, which orbits 250 miles above Earth, by early Saturday.

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet OF France, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of Japan await the launch of their NASA commercial crew mission to the International Space Station.
ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet OF France, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide of Japan await the launch of their NASA commercial crew mission to the International Space Station.
via REUTERS

The launch marked the third-ever crew flight for Musk’s company and the first to upcycle a previously flown rocket booster and spacecraft with astronauts on board.

Astronauts are seen in the cockpit of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft after lift off on April 23, 2021.
Astronauts are seen in the cockpit of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft after lift off on April 23, 2021.
NASA via AP

The Crew Dragon capsule, named “Endeavor,” previously carried NASA’s Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station in May 2020. Endeavour was also used in another mission when it soared atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in November 2020.

Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, pilot Megan McArthur and commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and mission specialist Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are the members of the crew.
Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, pilot Megan McArthur and commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and mission specialist Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are the members of the crew.
SpaceX via AP

Musk, who is also the boss behind electric car-maker Tesla, has long prioritized renewability. At SpaceX, reusability is a cornerstone of the company’s business plan, hoping that recovering and refurbishing hardware and other materials will decrease the cost of spaceflight.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule, is launched on April 23, 2021.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule, is launched on April 23, 2021.
REUTERS/Thom Baur

While SpaceX has re-flown boosters and spacecraft many times on satellite and cargo launches over the years they were unmanned, Friday’s flight marks the first time the company has used recycled a spacecraft for a crewed mission.

People looking on at Cape Canaveral, Florida, as a NASA crew heads toward space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
People looking on at Cape Canaveral, Florida, as a NASA crew heads toward space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson