NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins, and European astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti arrived at Kennedy Space Center yesterday (April 18) for their launch to the International Space Station. Dubbed ’Crew 4’, the mission is set to blast off from pad 39A on a SpaceX Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket on April 23 at 5:26 a.m. EDT.
Following their flight on a Gulfstream jet from Ellington Field in Houston, the crew spoke to media and then went into quarantine inside NASA’s crew quarters at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building. They’ll conduct a dry dress rehearsal on April 20 with the launch team, before returning to crew quarters until it is time to suit up and drive to their waiting rocket and spacecraft on launch day.
The crew have been hard at work for months training at Johnson Space Center for their upcoming 6 month mission, where they will conduct new scientific research and experiments including studies on the aging of immune systems, organic material concrete alternatives, and cardiorespiratory effects during and after long-duration exposure to microgravity. They will conduct over 200 experiments and technology demonstrations, and a pair of spacewalks to continue preparing the ISS for new solar arrays.
One of the more unique investigations will seek to restore vision to people suffering from retinal degenerative diseases like retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. The Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing experiment will test the manufacturing of artificial retinas or retinal implants in microgravity, where their production could be optimized.
They’ll also test shirts designed to monitor cardiovascular activity and provide details about heart contraction rate and valve opening and closing times – something normally accessible only through sonography or CT scans. The ’Smart-Tex’ shirts are part of a German Space Agency investigation called Wireless Compose-2, with the hope that such wearable technologies could monitor health throughout future long-duration missions and lead to use in health monitoring equipment on Earth.
Crew 4 will be the first spaceflight for mission pilot Hines and mission specialist Watkins, and the second flight for mission commander Lindgren and mission specialist Cristoforetti.
The Falcon 9 rocket they will launch on arrived at its launch pad today, and will be making its fourth flight after launching SpaceX’s 22nd cargo resupply mission to the station in June 2021, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission in November 2021, and SpaceX’s Turksat 5B mission in December 2021.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft, however, is shiny and new. It is tradition that the first astronauts to fly a new capsule name their spacecraft, and so Crew-4 chose “Freedom” to celebrate a fundamental human right, and the industry and innovation that emanate from the unencumbered human spirit.
“Through the Commercial Crew Program, NASA and SpaceX have restored a national capability and we honor the ingenuity and hard work of those involved,” said mission commander Lindgren. “Alan Shepard flew on Freedom 7 at the dawn of human spaceflight. We are honored to bring Freedom to a new generation!”
Should Crew 4 launch as planned on April 23, they will arrive at the ISS on April 24, with docking targeted for around 6:00 a.m. EDT
Follow updates and watch the launch LIVE here