NASA and SpaceX to launch four astronauts on a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station

NASA and SpaceX to launch four astronauts on a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station – including two international crew members for the first time

  • The commercial spaceship will leave Earth no earlier than April 20 for the ISS
  • It will take four astronauts to the ISS including a NASA pilot and commander
  • After a short stay the Crew-2 spaceship will return Crew-1 astronauts to Earth
  • This will be the second time a commercial spaceship has taken people to space

NASA and SpaceX plan to launch four astronauts to the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 rocket including two international crew members for the first time.

The second crew mission of the commercial spacecraft will leave Earth no earlier than April 20 from the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship will take NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, acting as spacecraft commander, and Megan McArthur, pilot, to the ISS.

They will be joined by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Akihiko Hoshide from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). 

This will be only the second time astronauts have launched from a commercial spacecraft and flown in a non-government backed spaceship to the ISS.

It will also mark only the second time since the space shuttle last flew in July 2011 that astronauts have launched for the ISS from US soil.  

Members of the SpaceX Crew-2 mission –  ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet (left), NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough (centre), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshid (right) – in training

Launching at some point from April 20 and no later than early May, the spaceship will lift off from the Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The crew are scheduled for a long-duration stay on the orbiting lab where they will live and work as part of a seven-member crew.

They will overlap with some of the first astronauts sent up to the ISS on the first Crew Dragon spaceship in November 2020.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is seen here as it approaches the International Space Station for a docking on November 17, 2020. The second Crew Dragon is due to leave in April


NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur will serve as spacecraft commander and pilot, respectively. 

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet will join as mission specialists. 

They are expected to return to Earth in the autumn of 2021

Crew-1 astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker from NASA, as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi are scheduled to return early May on the Crew-2 ship – with the second crew returning later in 2021.

NASA is also working with SpaceX for its third crew launch mission in the autumn.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has worked with several American aerospace industry companies to develop US human spaceflight systems since 2010. 

The agency says the goal is to have safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and foster commercial access to other potential low-Earth orbit destinations in the future.

NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX in September 2014 to transport crew to the International Space Station from US soil. 

These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions, maintaining a space station crew of seven to maximise time dedicated to scientific research on the orbiting laboratory.

So far only SpaceX has managed to launch crew to the ISS, although Boeing is containing to test its Starliner crew capsule.

The next test is due to happen on March 25 – an uncrewed flight that is a critical developmental milestone in Boeing’s bid to fly astronauts in space.

It will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and if successful, dock with the International Space Station before returning to Earth. 


The March 2 test, the first launch of U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil in eight years, will inform the system design and operations (Artist’s impression)

The capsule measures about 20 feet tall by 12 feet in diameter, and will carry up to 7 astronauts at a time. 

The Crew Dragon features an advanced emergency escape system (which was tested earlier this year) to swiftly carry astronauts to safety if something were to go wrong, experiencing about the same G-forces as a ride at Disneyland. 

It also has an Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) that provides a comfortable and safe environment for crew members. 

Crew Dragon’s displays will provide real-time information on the state of the spacecraft’s capabilities, showing everything from Dragon’s position in space, to possible destinations, to the environment on board.  

Those CRS-2 Dragon missions will use ‘propulsive’ landings, where the capsule lands on a landing pad using its SuperDraco thrusters rather than splashing down in the ocean. 

 That will allow NASA faster access to the cargo returned by those spacecraft, and also build up experience for propulsive landings of crewed Dragon spacecraft.

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