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Billionaire’s space crew bonds on Mount Rainier

The road to space runs through … Mount Rainier?

Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, who’s paying for a trip to orbit as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, thinks a three-day expedition on Washington state’s highest mountain with his future crewmates is a good way to prepare for three days of being cooped up in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

“We’re going to get comfortable getting uncomfortable,” he was quoted as saying in an Instagram post by John Kraus, the official photographer for Isaacman’s Inspiration4 space campaign.

Over the weekend, Isaacman and the three other members of the Inspiration4 Dragon crew — Lockheed Martin engineer Christopher Sembroski, Arizona geoscientist Sian Proctor and St. Jude physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux — were part of a team that took on the miles-long trek to Camp Muir, a way station at the mountain’s 10,080-foot elevation.

Isaacman and a subset of the team went even higher and reached the 14,411-foot-tall mountain’s summit during this trip — a stretch goal that the billionaire businessman missed out on during a preparatory climb earlier this month.

If all goes according to plan, the Inspiration4 foursome will climb into the same Crew Dragon spaceship that brought four astronauts back from the International Space Station over the weekend. SpaceX will refurbish the craft, christened Resilience, for a mission set for liftoff as early as September.

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Cosmic Space

SpaceX and NASA make history with night splashdown

For the first time since Apollo 8 in 1968, NASA astronauts returning to Earth from orbit have splashed down at night. And for the first time ever, it was done with a commercial spaceship.

After spending 168 days in space, NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, descended safely from the International Space Station to the Gulf of Mexico in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience. The Dragon hit the water off Florida’s Gulf Coast at 2:56 a.m. ET today (11:56 p.m. PT May 1).

A recovery team hauled the Dragon, with its crew inside, onto the deck of a ship called the Go Navigator. While he waited to be brought out from the capsule, Hopkins expressed his thanks to the SpaceX and NASA teams for a trouble-free return.

“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people come together. … Quite frankly, y’all are changing the world. Congratulations,” Hopkins said. “It’s great to be back.”

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Cosmic Space

SpaceX sends astronauts to orbit with a light show

Four astronauts from three nations have arrived at the International Space Station in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, after a night launch that lit up the skies over Florida with UFO-like displays.

The light show came courtesy of the timing for liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, on April 23 at 5:49 a.m. ET — which was just right for the dawn’s early glare to illuminate clouds of fuel and exhaust left behind by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket as it ascended and went through stage separation.

In a tweet, NASA said the skies “lit up like a sunrise.” Other observers said the launch left an impression that was out of this world:

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Tech billionaire buys a SpaceX flight to orbit

A billionaire CEO who also happens to be a trained jet pilot is buying a days-long flight to orbit aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — and he’s setting aside the three other seats for a health care worker, a sweepstakes prize winner and the top tech contestant in a “Shark Tank”-style competition.

That means you, too, could fly to space if you’re lucky, or a techie.

Jared Isaacman, the 37-year-old founder and CEO of Pennsylvania-based Shift4 Payments, will command the Inspiration4 mission, which is due for launch as early as this year and is currently due to last two to four days.

“If you want to stay up longer, that’s fine, too,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told Isaacman during a teleconference laying out the details.

The detailed flight plan hasn’t yet been set, but Musk made clear that Isaacman will have the final say. “Wherever you want to go, we’ll take you there,” Musk said.

Today’s announcement marks the latest twist for the nascent private spaceflight industry — which also counts Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as a pioneer, by virtue of his role in founding Blue Origin. Bezos’ space venture aims to start putting people on suborbital space rides later this year. Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, is also working toward beginning commercial space operations.

Just last week, Texas-based Axiom Space announced it would be sending a crew on a privately funded mission to the International Space Station next year on a SpaceX Dragon craft. Inspiration4, in contrast, will be a free-flying mission with no space station stopover.

Musk said he expected flights like the one announced today to usher in an era of private-sector orbital spaceflight.

“This is an important milestone toward enabling access to space for everyone — because at first, things are very expensive, and it’s only through missions like this that we’re able to bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all,” he said.

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Cosmic Space

Dragon’s crew hooks up with space station

After a 27-hour trip, three Americans and a Japanese spaceflier arrived at the International Space Station tonight for the first regular six-month tour of duty facilitated by a commercial space taxi.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which was christened Resilience, handled the docking autonomously. “Excellent job, right down the center,” NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins radioed down to ground controllers at SpaceX’s California headquarters.

“All for one, Crew-1 for all,” Japan’s Soichi Noguchi declared.

The Dragon’s four crew members floated through the hatch a couple of hours later. As he brought up the rear, Noguchi carried a Baby Yoda toy mascot, which served as the Dragon’s zero-G indicator for the Nov. 16 launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Hopkins, Noguchi and their crewmates — NASA astronauts Shannon Walker and Victor Glover — were greeted with smiles and hugs by the three spacefliers on the other side of the hatch: NASA’s Kate Rubins and Russia’s Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.

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Cosmic Space

SpaceX kicks off its first certified crew flight to orbit

This is not a test: For the first time, a commercial space venture has sent astronauts on their way to the International Space Station for a regularly scheduled crew rotation.

Today’s launch of three Americans and a Japanese spaceflier in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, powered by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, followed the pattern set in May for the company’s first-ever crewed space mission. Like that earlier journey, this one is being funded by NASA at an estimated price of $55 million per seat.

But unlike May’s outing, this mission isn’t considered a test flight. Instead, it’s the first crewed SpaceX launch to be conducted under the terms of a post-certification contract with NASA. SpaceX’s space transportation system was officially certified for regular flights with astronauts last week — just in time for the flight known as Crew-1.

It’s also the first crewed orbital launch to be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial spaceflight. “This is a big night for many of us, and it’s a big night for the FAA,” the agency’s administrator, Steve Dickson, said at a post-launch briefing.

In response to issues that arose during the crewed test flight, SpaceX beefed up the Dragon’s heat shield and fine-tuned the triggering system for the parachutes used for the spacecraft’s at-sea homecoming.

The first opportunity for launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Nov. 14, had to be put off for a day due to weather concerns — and when today’s countdown began, the chances of acceptable weather were rated at 50-50. But the weather improved, a glitch involving a hatch leak was quickly resolved, and the Falcon 9 rose from its launch pad into the night at 7:27 p.m. ET (4:27 p.m. PT.)

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, thousands watched the launch in person from Florida’s Space Coast. Hundreds of thousands watched streaming video coverage via NASA and SpaceX. Live coverage is scheduled to continue during the Dragon’s cruise to the space station.

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NASA astronauts splash down in SpaceX Dragon capsule

The first mission to send NASA astronauts into orbit on a commercially owned spaceship came back down to Earth today with the splashdown of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in the Gulf of Mexico.

“On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA teams, welcome back to planet Earth, and thanks for flying SpaceX,” Mike Heiman, a lead member of SpaceX’s operations team, told astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.

The splashdown closed out a 64-day mission to the International Space Station, aimed at testing the first SpaceX Dragon to carry crew. The reusable spacecraft, which put 27.1 million miles on its orbital odometer, was dubbed Endeavour as a tribute to earlier spaceships.

In May, Endeavour’s launch atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket made history, and today’s return to Earth did as well: It was the first time since 1975 that a crewed NASA spacecraft returned to Earth at sea, and the first-ever space landing in the Gulf of Mexico.

The splashdown marked the completion of the first mission to launch astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil since NASA’s final space shuttle flight in 2011.

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Astronauts dodge hurricane for Dragon homecoming

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule pulled away from the International Space Station today to begin the homeward flight for NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, even as Hurricane Isaias headed for Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Fortunately, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is heading for waters off Florida’s other coast.

Dragon Endeavour undocked from the station at 7:35 p.m. ET (4:35 p.m. PT), on track for a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Fla., at 2:48 p.m. ET (11:48 a.m. PT) Sunday. The alternate landing site is closer to Panama City, Fla.

Both sites should be far away from Isaias’ expected track along the United States’ Atlantic seaboard, and the timetable could be adjusted if the weather forecast changes. NASA and SpaceX had made plans for seven potential splashdown targets, but due to Isaias’ strength, NASA concentrated on the westernmost sites.

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NASA’s new head of human spaceflight speaks out

Kathy Lueders
NASA’s Kathy Lueders beams with joy as the hatches are opened between SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and the International Space Station on May 31. (NASA Photo / Joel Kowsky)

NASA’s newly named associate administrator for human exploration and operations, Kathy Lueders, says that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule “has been doing great” at the International Space Station — and that the NASA astronauts who rode it to orbit are likely to come back down to Earth in early August.

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NASA’s Dragon riders capture the flag

Space station crew with flag
NASA astronaut Doug Hurley shows off the U.S. flag that was left aboard the International Space Station in 2011 by the last space shuttle crew. Hurley and Behnken, at left, will take the flag back to Earth with them aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. The space station’s current commander, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, is at right. (NASA via YouTube)

A day after arriving at the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken laid claim to a U.S. flag that symbolizes America’s capability to send people to orbit from U.S. soil.

The handkerchief-sized flag, sealed in a plastic envelope, has been kept aboard the space station since 2011, when NASA’s final space shuttle crew left it behind before making their departure aboard Atlantis.

It was displayed above the Harmony module’s hatch — and, for a time, stored in an equipment bag, nearly forgotten — with instructions that it was to be taken back to Earth by the next crew launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

That moment finally came on May 31, when Hurley and Behnken floated through the Harmony hatch after their launch 19 hours earlier.

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