- SpaceX is launching four astronauts for NASA aboard a recycled Crew Dragon spaceship on Friday.
- Crew-2 is SpaceX’s second routine astronaut mission to the International Space Station.
- Here’s what to expect — from liftoff on Friday to an ocean splashdown six months later.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
SpaceX is launching four astronauts into Earth’s orbit on Friday.
The company’s Crew Dragon spaceship is the first and only commercial vehicle to carry astronauts into space. It’s now a routine part of NASA’s human spaceflight program.
Friday’s mission, called Crew-2, is the second of six crewed space-station flights that the agency has contracted from SpaceX. NASA officials gave SpaceX the green light for launch on Tuesday after two in-depth reviews of the rocket, spaceship, and launch preparations.
“We’ve completed thousands and thousands of tests to get to this day, just like we always have in the past and will continue to do,” Benji Reed, senior director of SpaceX’s Human Spaceflight Programs, said in a Tuesday briefing.
“We want to be paranoid, right?” he added. “We want to make sure that we’re going to fly these people safely and be able to bring them home safely when it’s time. So we check. We check under every rock and we double check and triple check.”
The four Crew-2 astronauts — Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency — are set to climb aboard the Crew Dragon capsule early Friday morning, then rocket into space at 5:49 a.m. ET.
The spaceship must reach orbit, dock to the International Space Station (ISS), and stay there for about six months while the astronauts work on the orbiting laboratory. Then it has to bring them back safely.
The astronauts will suit up early Friday morning
Launch day begins early for the Crew-2 astronauts, who will don their SpaceX spacesuits around 2 a.m. ET. Then they’ll say goodbye to their families, climb into a pair of custom Teslas, and drive out to Launch Complex 39A.
“We ask ourselves all the time: Would we be willing to fly our families on these vehicles?” Reed said.
They’ll strap into a recycled spaceship around 3:15 a.m. ET
Early Friday, the Crew-2 astronauts will ascend the launch tower and climb aboard the Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavour.
McArthur’s husband, Bob Behnken, piloted the first crewed SpaceX flight in that same capsule last year. A demonstration mission called Demo-2 took him and astronaut Doug Hurley to the ISS for three months.
Like her husband, McArthur will pilot Endeavour for her mission.
“I’m going to launch in the same seat. So that is kind of a fun thing that we can share, you know, I can tease him and say, ‘Hey, Can you hand over the keys? I’m ready now to go,'” McArthur recently said in a press call.
The rocket is loaded with propellant just before liftoff
Thirty-five minutes before liftoff, at 5:14 a.m. ET, technicians will begin remotely loading the Falcon 9 rocket with kerosene and cryogenically chilled liquid-oxygen propellant.
The rocket booster that will push Crew-2 into space has also been recycled. It’s the same one that launched the Crew-1 mission in November.
“Flying on reused vehicles, on flight-proven vehicles, is key towards greater flight reliability and lowering the cost of access to space, which is ultimately what helps us make life multiplanetary,” Reed said.
Reusability, he added, is “the holy grail of spaceflight.”
Go time is exactly two seconds after 5:49 a.m.
When the countdown clock hits zero — precisely two seconds after 5:49 a.m. ET — the Falcon 9 engines will roar to life, heaving the rocket past the launchpad.
The astronauts will be pressed into their seats for about 10 minutes as the vehicle screams toward space. Then the rocket booster should fall away — to land back on Earth and launch another day — giving the Crew Dragon one final push into Earth’s orbit.
Liftoff is instantaneous, meaning it must occur at the precise second at which it’s scheduled. Waiting would allow the ultracold propellant to warm up, expand, and boil off — reducing the engines’ thrust and inviting risks NASA doesn’t want to take with humans on board.
But for liftoff to happen, skies must be clear and winds must be low around the launch site. Friday’s launch was originally scheduled for Thursday, but NASA pushed it back due to an unfavorable forecast.