SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carried four astronauts from three countries to the International Space Station on Saturday, beginning the crew’s six-month stay in space.
This mission, dubbed Crew-2, marks the third-ever crewed flight for Elon Musk’s company and the first to make use of a previously flown, privately-owned rocket booster and spacecraft.
The astronauts took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida Friday morning and spent nearly 24 hours soaring through orbit at more than 17,000 miles per hour, as their Crew Dragon spacecraft maneuvered toward the ISS, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth.
On Saturday morning, the capsule slowly aligned itself and moved in to dock directly with one of the space station’s ports.
The crew consists of NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, and Akihiko Hoshide with Japan’s JAXA space agency.
A prime focus of the astronauts’ mission will be research with “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.
Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet, and Hoshide joined seven astronauts already on board the station, four of whom arrived on a different SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in November. That brings the space station’s current total of personnel to 11 one of the largest crews the ISS has ever hosted. But that number will quickly drop back down to seven when four of the astronauts who’d been on board hitch a ride home from the station on April 28.