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Astronauts reach space station in SpaceX capsule

SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour
A camera mounted on the International Space Station shows SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule hooked up to a port on the station’s Harmony module. (NASA via YouTube)

For the first time in nearly nine years, astronauts have arrived at the International Space Station in a spaceship that was made in the USA.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which was christened Endeavour soon after Saturday’s launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, hooked up with the station at 7:16 a.m. PT today.

Endeavour brought NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the station’s Harmony port, prompting space station commander Chris Cassidy to ring the naval bell that’s part of the tradition for welcoming space crews.

“Dragon arriving,” Cassidy declared.

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Trump hails SpaceX launch after seeing it firsthand

Donald Trump in VAB
President Donald Trump delivers remarks in Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building with a mockup of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

President Donald Trump held up America’s space effort as a unifying endeavor for a divided nation after becoming only the third sitting president to witness the launch of American astronauts in person.

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Astronauts give their capsule a storied name

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (foreground) and Bob Behnken (background) provide a tour of their Crew Dragon space taxi. (NASA via YouTube)

The two NASA astronauts who rode SpaceX’s first crew-carrying Dragon capsule to orbit today named their spacecraft, continuing a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of America’s space effort.

“I know most of you, at SpaceX especially, know it as Capsule 206,” Hurley said over a space-to-ground video link a few hours after launch. “But I think all of us thought that maybe we could do a little bit better than that. So, without further ado, we would like to welcome you aboard capsule Endeavour.”

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SpaceX sends NASA astronauts on historic trip

Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, sending NASA astronauts into orbit in a Crew Dragon capsule. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station today, becoming the first company to send humans to orbit on a commercial spaceship.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22 p.m. ET (12:22 p.m. PT) marked a feat that Americans hadn’t been able to do since NASA retired the space shuttles in 2011: sending astronauts into orbit from a U.S. launch pad rather than relying on the Russians.

“It is absolutely our honor to be part of this huge effort to get the United States back in the launch business,” NASA astronaut Doug Hurley told SpaceX Mission Control just before liftoff.

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Scientists trace coronavirus’ roundabout route

Coronavirus
A transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles are key to their ability to infect human cells. (NIAID-RML Photo)

Two newly published studies shed light on the origins and spread of the coronavirus pandemic, starting with bats and pangolins in China and ending up with New York’s dramatically deadly outbreak.

One study, published today in the open-access journal Science Advances, analyzed 43 genome sequences from three strains of coronavirus similar to the one that causes COVID-19 in humans. These strains were identified in bats and in pangolins, anteater-like animals prized for their scales. The two pangolins that yielded samples of coronavirus were smuggled into China and seized by customs officials.

The type of coronavirus that has caused the human pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, is more similar to bat viruses than to pangolin viruses. But a key piece of genetic material, relating to the ability of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to bind itself to human cells, was identified in pangolin viruses but not in bat viruses.

None of the viruses that were studied is likely to be in the direct line leading to the virus that made the leap to humans, but their diversity suggests that SARS-CoV-2 went through cross-species evolution before making the leap to humans.

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Starship prototype rocket blows up on test pad

Starship SN4, the latest in a series of prototypes for SpaceX’s super-rocket, exploded in a huge fireball today just after a static-fire test at the company’s South Texas facility.

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Weather complicates SpaceX’s launch plans

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine takes a question during a briefing at Kennedy Space Center’s countdown clock with NASA astronaut Nicole Mann standing behind him. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

NASA and SpaceX are keeping a close eye on the weather in Florida and beyond as they get set for a second attempt to launch two NASA astronauts in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on May 30. Or maybe May 31.

During a briefing held today at the billboard-sized countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said mission managers were weighing whether to skip the first opportunity and go for the one after that instead.

The forecast for May 31 is slightly better, with a 60% chance of acceptable weather as opposed to 50% for May 30. Rain and thick clouds are the primary concerns.

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Scientists revise timeline for coronavirus’ rise

Coronavirus spread map
This visualization shows the routes by which variants of coronavirus are thought to have come into the U.S. and Europe. (Nextstrain Graphic)

Epidemiologists are coming around to the view that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S., involving a Snohomish County traveler who got sick in mid-January, may not have been the one that touched off the West Coast’s coronavirus outbreak.

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All-electric Cessna airplane takes to the air

MagniX airplane and Roei Ganzarski
MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski talks about his company’s all-electric Cessna Grand Caravan airplane, parked in the background at Moses Lake’s airport after its first flight. Ganzarski wears a mask to conform to social distancing requirements during the coronavirus pandemic. (MagniX via Facebook)

An all-electric version of one of the world’s best-known small utility airplanes hummed through its first flight today at Moses Lake in central Washington state.

Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX and Seattle-based AeroTEC were in charge of the test, which focused on the performance of a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan powered by MagniX’s 750-horsepower Magni500 propulsion system.

During today’s 30-minute-long test flight, the hum of the modified eCaravan’s motor was drowned out by the relative roar of the chase plane’s engine. “The small Cessna is making about double the noise,” MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski said during his webcast commentary.

AeroTEC test pilot Steve Crane took the plane up as high as 2,500 feet during what he termed a “flawless” test flight.

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Boeing resumes 737 MAX jet production

737 MAX assembly
The first 737 MAX 8 plane undergoes final assembly at Boeing’s Renton plant in 2015. (Boeing Photo)

Boeing says it has resumed 737 MAX production at its factory in Renton, Wash., with more than a dozen initiatives implemented to enhance product quality and workplace safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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