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SpaceX rocket carrying four astronauts launches from Florida

A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft — carrying four astronauts from three countries — took off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Friday morning, beginning their six-month stay in space. CNN's Rachel Crane reports from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Posted: Apr 24, 2021 8:11 AM
Updated: Apr 24, 2021 8:11 AM

A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft — carrying four astronauts from three countries — took off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Friday morning, beginning their six-month stay in space.

This launch marked the third-ever crewed flight for Elon Musk's company and the first to make use of a previously flown rocket booster and spacecraft.

NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur will be joined by French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, and Akihiko Hoshide from Japan. They're due to spend six months aboard the International Space Station after their Crew Dragon capsule docks early Saturday morning.

The Crew Dragon capsule, named "Endeavour," previously carried NASA's Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the space station in May 2020. Endeavour soared into space atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that was also charred with soot from a previous mission it flew in November 2020. SpaceX has long made reusability a cornerstone of its business plan, hoping that recovering and refurbishing hardware will drive down the cost of spaceflight. Though the company has re-flown boosters and spacecraft dozens of times on satellite and cargo launches over the past several years, this will mark the first time the company will reuse hardware for a crewed mission.

After enjoying time at the beach Thursday and getting some sleep, the crew was at Florida's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to suit up shortly after midnight. They then enjoyed handpicked playlists — one of which included tunes by Ozzy Osbourne, Foo Fighters and Metallica — inside the Teslas that drove them to the launch pad before they were whisked up the launch tower, and accessed the spacecraft via aerial walkway.

The astronauts spent hours being strapped into the capsule by a team of SpaceX helpers, and running through a series of communications and safety checks. The crew briefly kept themselves entertained during the checks by playing rounds of rock-paper-scissors, a superstitious tradition that all astronauts that launch out of KSC observe before flight.

Then, just before 6 am ET, the Falcon 9 rocket fired to life and propelled the spacecraft to more than 17,000 miles per hour before separating from the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX also landed the first-stage rocket booster on a seafaring platform so that it can be used yet again on a later mission.

The Crew Dragon, meanwhile, is now hurtling through space. It'll remain freeflying through orbit as it gradually maneuvers closer to the ISS, which orbits about 250 miles above ground. It's slated to dock with the ISS around 5 am ET Saturday.

Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet, and Hoshide will join seven astronauts already on board the station, four of whom arrived on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in November. That will bring the space station's total staff to 11 — one of the largest crews the ISS has ever hosted. But that number will quickly drop back down to seven when four other astronauts hitch a ride home from the station on April 28.

NASA has spent more than a decade working to boost staffing aboard the 21-year-old space station after the retirement of its Space Shuttle program in 2011 left Russia's Soyuz spacecraft as the only option for getting astronauts to and from the ISS. The United States had been paying Russia as much as $90 million per seat for those trips.

For years, SpaceX worked under a $2.6 billion fixed-price contract to develop its Crew Dragon spacecraft under NASA's Commercial Crew program, which for the first time in space agency history handed over the task of building and testing a crew-worthy spacecraft to the private sector. SpaceX made history last May with the first crewed launch of a Crew Dragon on a mission called Demo-2, which carried NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the ISS for a four-month stay. A second crewed SpaceX mission took off in November.

(Boeing is working under a similar contract to develop its own capsule for the program, called Starliner, though it is still in the testing phase.)

A prime focus of the astronauts' mission will be to study "tissue chips," or "small models of human organs containing multiple cell types that behave much the same as they do in the body" and that NASA hopes will advance the development of drugs and vaccines, according to the space agency. That work will build on years of studying biological and other scientific phenomena aboard the ISS, where the microgravity environment can give scientists a better fundamental understanding of how something works.

McArthur is a Space Shuttle veteran and is married to Behnken, who co-piloted the historic Demo-2 mission last May. McArthur told reporters over the weekend that she was able to get "years of experience" with the Crew Dragon vehicle as Behnken worked alongside SpaceX during the Crew Dragon development process.

"I had several years, really, of learning from him along the way," McArthur, who will pilot the Crew-2 mission and holds a doctorate in oceanography, said.

McArthur will be joined by NASA's Kimbrough, a retired Army colonel and a veteran of two previous ISS missions. Their crewmates, Japan's Hoshide and France's Pesquet, both have prior spaceflight experience as well.

Pesquet said he appreciated the chance to fly aboard the refurbished rocket booster that helps lift the capsule into the void. The weathered hardware still covered in soot from their prior flights, allowed him and his crew mates to "draw our initials" on the side of the vehicle.

"I don't know if [the writing] is gonna stick, but I've found it really cool," he said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 681613

Reported Deaths: 8076
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1403921855
Ramsey58542944
Dakota52093497
Anoka48037479
Washington30637309
Stearns24839240
St. Louis20269335
Scott19626145
Wright18499163
Olmsted15792110
Sherburne13522100
Carver1206952
Clay915295
Rice9104120
Blue Earth866347
Crow Wing7797102
Kandiyohi744188
Chisago711658
Otter Tail666691
Benton6439101
Mower558038
Winona554452
Goodhue550080
Douglas535484
Itasca516671
Beltrami504672
McLeod501463
Steele500921
Isanti490170
Morrison467563
Nobles448650
Becker434559
Polk433675
Freeborn429538
Lyon394254
Carlton389559
Nicollet377647
Pine373726
Mille Lacs354360
Brown346443
Cass343035
Le Sueur340829
Todd321734
Meeker304749
Waseca288625
Martin261933
Wabasha24334
Dodge24064
Hubbard232241
Roseau231723
Houston203816
Renville199548
Redwood198242
Fillmore194710
Pennington190221
Wadena185126
Faribault179725
Cottonwood176624
Sibley175810
Chippewa171239
Kanabec164129
Aitkin155038
Watonwan155011
Rock138519
Jackson134712
Pope13058
Yellow Medicine125120
Pipestone125026
Swift117119
Koochiching116519
Murray115110
Stevens112211
Marshall103518
Clearwater101918
Lake91021
Wilkin89614
Lac qui Parle84824
Big Stone6814
Mahnomen6819
Grant6718
Lincoln6524
Norman6509
Kittson53322
Unassigned51593
Red Lake4777
Traverse4215
Lake of the Woods3884
Cook2120

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 432122

Reported Deaths: 6339
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk67341672
Linn25698353
Scott22828261
Black Hawk19121334
Woodbury16940233
Johnson1659690
Dubuque14547218
Pottawattamie13058183
Dallas12746102
Story1187148
Warren685993
Webster6304102
Cerro Gordo6212102
Clinton620097
Des Moines594482
Muscatine5781108
Unassigned57410
Marshall564280
Sioux542775
Jasper516575
Lee511078
Wapello4993128
Buena Vista472942
Marion449083
Plymouth434083
Henry339940
Jones331158
Bremer325365
Crawford321644
Carroll317053
Washington315754
Benton312656
Boone308736
Mahaska275453
Dickinson270846
Kossuth251471
Jackson246044
Clay245729
Tama238273
Delaware234643
Buchanan233938
Hardin230847
Page221624
Cedar220525
Fayette220345
Wright217641
Winneshiek215937
Hamilton211752
Harrison198875
Clayton194458
Madison193820
Butler188836
Floyd187742
Mills185224
Poweshiek181036
Cherokee179440
Iowa176425
Allamakee176252
Lyon174441
Jefferson169138
Calhoun168313
Hancock167335
Winnebago164231
Grundy158835
Cass155556
Louisa154949
Shelby151739
Appanoose151249
Emmet149541
Franklin148524
Humboldt147226
Sac144722
Union144237
Mitchell141643
Guthrie138132
Chickasaw137518
Palo Alto131124
Clarke125024
Montgomery122239
Keokuk116232
Howard115622
Monroe114033
Ida107538
Davis103125
Pocahontas99023
Greene98012
Adair95334
Monona94733
Lucas94523
Worth9268
Osceola83717
Decatur74510
Fremont74111
Taylor72412
Van Buren70919
Wayne65123
Ringgold62226
Audubon58414
Adams3914
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