The Crew Dragon capsule from SpaceX, the private company that has won over Nasa to carry humans into space, is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station early Saturday, carrying four astronauts including Frenchman Thomas Pesquet.
Named Endeavour, the capsule will dock with the Harmony module at about 5:10 a.m. Eastern time (09:10 GMT). The event should be broadcast live by the U.S. space agency, as well as the ceremony to welcome the new arrivals. In addition to Thomas Pesquet for the European Space Agency (ESA), the three other crew members of the Crew-2 mission are Americans Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur and Japanese Akihiko Hoshide. This is the third mission of this type for SpaceX since the United States resumed manned space flights. The liftoff had taken place Friday at dawn at the Kennedy Space Center, under the applause in the control room of SpaceX. The first stage of the rocket detached well and landed Friday on a platform at sea. SpaceX has made a place for itself with NASA at a time when Boeing's Starliner capsule is experiencing delays in its test flights. The success in May 2020 of SpaceX's first manned test flight broke the Russian monopoly on flights to the ISS and gave back to the Americans the ability to accomplish this feat, after the end of the Shuttle space program in 2011.
By the middle of the night, the four Crew-2 mission members had said goodbye to their loved ones before boarding the three white Tesla cars that have become a tradition, which took them to the launch pad. The license plates on all three cars read recycle, reuse and reduce - a nod to the fact that the mission reuses components that have already been used. Friday's flight reused the thruster used in an unmanned test mission, a first, and the Crew Dragon spacecraft is the same as the one used in last May's manned test flight. Thomas Pesquet became the first European to fly aboard a Crew Dragon capsule. The European space agency has nicknamed the mission Alpha, in reference to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our solar system.
This is truly a golden age for us in terms of operating the International Space Station, Frank De Winne, ISS program director for the European Space Agency, told AFP. German Matthias Maurer will be the next European to be part of a SpaceX mission this fall, followed by Italian Samantha Cristoforetti next spring. Three European astronauts in a row in the ISS is unique for us, said Josef Aschbacher, director of the European Space Agency. During its six-month mission, the Crew-2 team will be responsible for conducting about 100 scientific experiments, including one on the effects of weightlessness on cerebral organoids (mini-brains created in the laboratory). Scientists hope this research can help space agencies prepare for missions that will expose crews to the hardships of space for long periods of time, and even help combat brain diseases on Earth.