A new crew of astronauts is on their way to the International Space Station today, following their successful launch with SpaceX early this morning from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff occurred at 3:52am EDT, sending Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob “Farmer” Hines, Jessica Watkins and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on the first leg of their 6-month “Crew 4” mission.
“The past few days at Kennedy Space Center have been inspiring and busy with the return of the Axiom crew and now the successful launch of Crew-4 astronauts to the International Space Station,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Aboard station, Kjell, Bob, Jessica, and Samantha will carry out research investigations that will help NASA prepare for longer duration stays on the Moon – and eventually Mars. These missions wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated NASA and SpaceX teams here on Earth.”
It’s the first spaceflight for Hines and mission specialist Watkins, and the second flight for commander Lindgren and mission specialist Cristoforetti, flying a shiny new Dragon spacecraft that they named “Freedom.”
The mission marked the fourth flight for the rocket itself, and the fifth SpaceX flight with NASA astronauts as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
SpaceX is currently monitoring a series of automatic spacecraft maneuvers from their mission control center in Hawthorne, California, while NASA teams monitor ISS operations throughout the flight from their Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“You all have my gratitude for what you’ve meant in my life. In a few short hours, I’ll be launching into space for the first time…and taking all of you with me,” said Hines prior to launch. “Thanks to those who could make it to the launch, and to those watching from afar. I love you all!”
The crew is expected to dock autonomously at the ISS at 8:15 p.m. EDT. After pressurization and leak checks, hatches will be opened around 9:45 p.m. EDT, at which point Crew-4 will be welcomed aboard by Expedition 67 Commander Tom Marshburn, his NASA crewmates Raja Chari and Kayla Barron, Germany’s Matthias Maurer and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov.
The astronauts have been hard at work for months training at Johnson Space Center for their 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 they’ll conduct 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.
“NASA, SpaceX and our international partners have worked tirelessly to ensure that the International Space Station continues conducting important research in microgravity, and working on a whole host of activities that benefit humanity and opens up access to more people in space,” said Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. “Crew-4’s launch, less than two days after the return of the first all-private mission to station, exemplifies the spirit and success of the Commercial Crew Program to help maximize use of low-Earth orbit for years to come, testing the technologies we need for the Artemis program and beyond.”
You can follow NASA’s ongoing live coverage through docking and hatch opening in the above embed of NASA TV’s youtube. NASA will also cover a ceremony welcoming Crew-4 aboard the ISS at about 2:40 a.m. on Thursday, April 28.