SpaceX capsule with four NASA astronauts aboard docks with International Space Station

This mission, called Crew-2, is the third crewed flight for Elon Musk’s company and the first to use a previously flown rocket booster and privately owned spacecraft.

The astronauts took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Friday morning and spent nearly 24 hours soaring through orbit at over 17,000 mph while their Crew Dragon spacecraft maneuvered toward the ISS, which was about 250 km over orbits the earth.

On Saturday morning, the capsule slowly aligned itself and docked directly at one of the ports on the space station.

A major focus of the astronauts’ mission will be research into “tissue chips” or “small models of human organs containing multiple cell types that behave similarly to the way they do in the body,” and NASA hopes to advance drug and vaccine development, according to the company Space agency. This work will build on years of research into biological and other scientific phenomena aboard the ISS, where the microgravity environment can give scientists a better basic understanding of how something works.

Kimbrough, McArthur, Pesquet and Hoshide joined seven astronauts who were already aboard the station, four of whom arrived on another SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in November. This means that the space station currently has 11 employees – one of the largest crews the ISS has ever housed. But that number will quickly drop back to seven when four of the astronauts who were on board head home from the station on April 28th.

NASA spent more than a decade increasing the staffing aboard the 21-year-old space station after the space shuttle program ended in 2011. The Russian spaceship Soyuz was the only way to get astronauts to and from the ISS. The United States had paid Russia up to $ 90 million per seat for these trips.

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For years, SpaceX worked under a $ 2.6 billion fixed price contract to develop its Crew Dragon spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which for the first time in space agency history includes the task of building and testing a crew -worthy spacecraft transferred to the US private sector.

((Boeing ((BA) is working on developing its own capsule for the program under a similar contract. This capsule called Starliner is still in the testing phase.)

The mission is a hallmark in SpaceX’s efforts to reuse space hardware to reduce space travel costs. Both the Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed “Endeavor”, and the Falcon 9 rocket that launched it into orbit have previously flown in space.

Although the company has re-flown boosters and starships on satellite and cargo launches dozens of times over the past few years, this is the first time the company has reused hardware on a crewed mission.