When the SpaceX Dragon launches to the International Space Station this week for its second operational crew mission, an astronaut with ties to San Diego will be at the helm of the spacecraft.
NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, a UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography alumna, will pilot the Dragon during the SpaceX Crew-2 mission alongside NASA commander Shane Kimbrough, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
The flight will mark another achievement in commercialized space travel: the first time a flight carrying humans will have a reused rocket, Falcon 9, and a reused spacecraft, the Crew Dragon named Endeavour.
The mission is scheduled to launch at 2:49 a.m. PDT Friday barring any more unfavorable weather conditions, which have already delayed the targeted launch date from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If delayed, the backup launch date is Monday, April 26 at 1:38 a.m. PDT.
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With a spacecraft traveling about 17,500 miles per hour, the crew will dock on the ISS within 24 hours of takeoff.
McArthur, who was born in Hawaii but considers herself a Californian, has been to space once before -- for a mission to fix the Hubble Space telescope in 2009 -- but it will be her first time disembarking on the ISS where she will stay for six months with her crewmates. All the while, the Dragon capsule will be hooked onto the ISS, ready to carry the astronauts home when the mission is over.
McArthur has an aerospace engineering degree from UCLA and a doctorate in oceanography from UC San Diego. At the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, McArthur used an algorithm to develop geoacoustic models that could describe shallow water waveguides.
With those accolades, it's no wonder her crew members describe her as: "intelligent," "witty," "smart," "knowledgeable," and "brave."
As a pilot, McArthur will be second in command of the Crew-2 mission, controlling and operating the shuttle on its journey to space. (Once in orbit, automatic maneuvers take over).
And, by piloting the Dragon spacecraft for its second manned mission to the ISS, McArthur will be making couple's history as well -- she will be piloting the same spacecraft her husband, NASA astronaut Bob Behnken, took to ISS last year.
“It’s kind of a fun thing that we can share. I can see him and say, ‘Hey, can you hand over the keys. I’m ready now to go,'" McArthur said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Their 7-year-old son, Theo, is less enthusiastic about his parents' jobs. McArthur told AP "he's not super excited" about her being gone for so long.
While on the ISS, essentially a floating laboratory that circles Earth from about 240 miles away, the SpaceX Crew-2 will take part in spacewalks to install solar panels, and conduct research experiments in medical technology and human health. For example, the crew will be conducting tests on tissue engineering. Another expiriment, paid for by the retail store Target, will study cotton growth to see if there are ways to use less water and pesticides here on earth.
The mission was made possible through NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which allows the agency to work with private American companies working to create spacecrafts for commercial transportation. NASA says that this project allows their own researchers to focus their efforts on deep space missions, like launching to the Moon and Mars.
How to watch NASA's SpaceX Crew-2 mission launch
Watch live coverage of the SpaceX Crew-2 mission launch starting at 10:30 p.m. PDT on Thursday in the player below or on NASA.gov.
NASA's SpaceX Crew-2 mission schedule
10:30 p.m. PDT: Live coverage begins on NASA.gov
2:49 a.m. PDT on Friday: SpaceX Crew-2 mission launch
4:30 a.m. PDT: Postlaunch news conference
2:10 a.m. PDT: Crew Dragon docks at ISS
4:15 a.m. PDT: Hatch to ISS Opens
4:45 a.m. PDT: Welcome ceremony