SpaceX’s next crew arrives in Florida for Earth Day launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX’s most international crew of astronauts yet arrived at their launch site Friday.

By coincidence, their flight to the International Space Station is set for next Thursday — Earth Day. It’s a reminder of NASA’s core mission of studying the home planet, the space agency’s acting administrator Steve Jurczyk said as he welcomed the astronauts to Kennedy Space Center.

The three men and one woman represent the U.S., France and Japan: NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet and Akihiko Hoshide, all experienced space fliers.

“It’s definitely getting real,” Kimbrough, the spacecraft commander, said after arriving by plane from Houston.

This will be SpaceX’s third launch of astronauts in less than a year, and the first to use a recycled Falcon rocket and Dragon crew capsule. NASA turned to U.S. private companies for crew transport after the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

“Certainly, I think all of them, until we get several years under our belt, should be considered test flights,” Kimbrough told reporters.

SpaceX uses the same kind of rocket and similar capsules for supply deliveries, and recycles those as well.

McArthur is the only member of the crew who has yet to visit the space station. She flew the shuttle to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. And launching out of Kennedy is new to Pesquet after more than 11 years as an astronaut.

“We’re living in the golden age of human spaceflight,” said Pesquet, a former Air France pilot. “Looks like everybody, every country, has a project or a spacecraft.”

The astronauts left the runway in a pair of white gull-winged Teslas; SpaceX founder Elon Musk also runs the electric car company. They had an early bedtime to sync up with what will be pretty much an all-nighter Thursday. Liftoff time is 6:11 a.m.

The four will replace the SpaceX crew that launched last November. Those four will return to Earth at the end of April. A fresh three-person Soyuz crew, meanwhile, arrived at the space station last week from Kazakhstan, replacing two Russians and one American due back on Earth this weekend.

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