Successful second launch of the reusable Crew Dragon spacecraft with four astronauts on board


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After a 24-hour delay due to bad weather, the second manned mission aboard the Crew Dragon took off from Cape Canaveral on time, at 11.52 peninsular time. And almost like a rhythmic dance, all the steps went according to plan: from an incredible launch that colored the sky yellow and orange with some clouds over Florida; to the synchronization between the moment in which the capsule with the four crew members on board reached Earth orbit while, at the same time, the Falcon 9 rocket made a perfect landing on the ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You‘, which means “of course I still love you” in English, a name devised by the always controversial Elon Musk. He is the founder of SpaceX, the company in which NASA has placed much of its hopes not only to stop relying on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), but to launch its ambitious Artemis program and bring the man (and the first woman) back to the Luna. And, from there, to Mars.

Several factors made this a special launch: both the capsule and the rocket, designed by SpaceX, would be reused for the second time in an official mission; for the first time four astronauts would travel, filling all the seats of the Crew Dragon; and among the crew members, there were two international partners, one of them a European. The four astronauts on board (Shane Kimbrough Y Megan McArthur, from NASA; Akihiko Hoshidefrom the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; and french Thomas Pesquet, from the European Space Agency) were smiling before heading to the ISS, where they will remain for six months. There they will conduct different experiments in zero gravity until they return home on October 31.

Reusing vehicles

The Crew Dragon capsule, which was named after its first crew members, the American astronauts Bob Behnken Y Doug Hurley, What Endeavour, has passed a series of tests before being reused again. Endeavor was docked on the ISS for two months before returning to Earth in August 2020, when it successfully landed in the Gulf of Mexico. After being recovered by SpaceX, the company carried out intensive inspections to recondition it and make it in perfect condition before the trip of the Crew-2 mission.

More serious than expected imperfections in the heat shield were found during the examinations, although these parts have been replaced for the new maneuvers. In addition, additional work was carried out on the ship’s hull and the internal valves that needed to be changed were changed. After these tests, Endeavor was transported to Cape Canaveral to pass further examinations such as electromagnetic interference tests, acoustic and systems verification.

Zero gravity experiments

The Crew-2 astronauts will join the other members of Expedition 65, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hi and the cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy Y Pyotr Dubrovfrom Roscosmos for a six-month mission to conduct science experiments in low Earth orbit.

An example of these experiments is tests with small tissue microchips, which are models of human organs with multiple types of artificial cells that behave in a similar way to natural cells. These chips can make it possible to identify safe and effective therapies (drugs or vaccines) much faster than the standard process, taking advantage of the fact that in zero gravity the human body experiences an acceleration of aging and the progression of diseases. “Scientists use specialized tissue chips in space to model diseases that affect specific organs of the human body, but can take months or years to develop on Earth.”

“We know that cells communicate with each other and that this communication is essential for proper functioning,” he says. Liz Warren, Senior Director of Programs, ISS US National Laboratory. “We don’t fully understand why, but in microgravity, cell-to-cell communication works differently than it does in a cell culture flask on Earth. Cells also aggregate or stick together differently in microgravity. These characteristics allow cells to behave more as they do when they are inside the body. Therefore, microgravity appears to provide a unique opportunity for tissue engineering. ‘

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