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Japan's Hoshide, others head to space station aboard SpaceX rocket

Launch marks the first reuse of rocket and capsule in a mission

JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide arrives for the boarding of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and three others lifted off Friday as part of a crew rotation flight on a SpaceX-developed craft to the International Space Station.

The Crew Dragon space capsule was launched on a Falcon 9 rocket at 5:49 a.m. from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the third manned flight of its kind. It was the first time to reuse the capsule and part of the rocket from previous missions.

The spacecraft and rocket developed by U.S. company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was certified last year by NASA for crew missions to and from the ISS, becoming the first commercial system in history to achieve such a designation.

Hoshide, 52, became the second Japanese astronaut to fly aboard a Crew Dragon, after Soichi Noguchi, 56, who has been on the orbiting laboratory since November.

The two Japanese are expected to meet at the ISS before Noguchi heads back to Earth with three other U.S. astronauts later this month.

Hoshide is also scheduled to become the second Japanese to serve as a commander of the ISS, following in the footsteps of Koichi Wakata, 57, who served as ISS commander in 2014, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The other members who are traveling with Hoshide aboard the Crew Dragon are Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur of NASA and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency. The four will stay on the ISS for a six-month science mission.

Benji Reed, senior director of Human Spaceflight Programs at SpaceX, said at a press conference earlier this week that flying reused vehicles is key for "greater flight reliability and lowering the cost of access to space."

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