Four astronauts arrive at the space station for a long-term stay – Spaceflight Now 2022-04-28 00:14:35

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SpaceX’s Dragon Freedom spacecraft docked Wednesday with the Harmony module on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

Three Americans and an Italian astronaut boarded the International Space Station late Wednesday after a nearly 16-hour flight aboard a SpaceX crew capsule from a launch pad in Florida, in preparation for a multi-month expedition to conduct experiments, maintenance and upgrades.

NASA’s fourth operations crew flight, known as Crew-4, continues the regular rotation of astronauts to and from the space station.

Commander Kjell Lindgren and three colleagues took off from the Kennedy Space Center at 3:52 a.m. EDT (0752 GMT) on Wednesday atop a Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX’s Dragon Freedom spacecraft transported the four-man crew to the station, using A series of orbit adjustments to match the height and speed of the science outpost.

The docking time culminated in an automated docking with the zenith, or space-facing port, on the station’s Harmony module at 7:37 p.m. EDT (2337 GMT). That ended with a 15-hour, 45-minute flight from the launch pad in Florida, the fastest transit time for an American mission from takeoff to docking at the space station.

The Russian cargo crew and expeditions arrived at the station within three hours after launch.

The space station’s convenient location in orbit at the time of Crew-4’s launch early Wednesday allowed SpaceX’s Dragon Freedom spacecraft to reach the complex several hours faster than previous Dragon missions.

Lindgren, a veteran of the station’s 141-day expedition in 2015, was joined by pilot Bob Hines, ESA astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA mission specialist Jesica Watkins.

“We did a very cool flight into low Earth orbit with the F9 booster and Freedom capsule,” said Lindgren. “It was a really smooth ride. And Gs was so amazing.”

“It was unbelievable,” Haynes said. “That trip, especially in Phase Two, it was really cool, it’s been amazing.”

Haynes and Watkins fly into space for the first time. Both joined NASA’s team of astronauts in 2017. Cristoforetti, a native of Milan, Italy, spent 199 days in orbit on a mission to the space station in 2014 and 2015.

Watkins, a planetary geologist, is the first black woman to live on the space station on a long-term mission.

“I think, to me, the most amazing part of the whole trip was definitely the view,” Watkins said. “When we were coming to dock, we started putting on our suits and started getting ready and only had time to take a last minute look out the window, and we could see the space station kind of far away.”

Watkins and her colleagues will have plenty of time to admire the view of Earth from the space station windows. The Crew-4 mission is scheduled to run until at least mid-September, shortly after the launch of Crew-5, NASA’s next astronauts’ mission with SpaceX.

Crew-4 is a SpaceX commercial flight sponsored by the company’s multi-billion dollar contract with NASA. The newly arrived astronauts will replace Crew-3 astronauts, who have lived and worked on the station since November.

The Crew-4 mission is SpaceX’s seventh human spaceflight mission overall, including four operational NASA flights, two fully commercial astronaut missions, and the first Dragon crew test flight in 2020.

The space agency announced in February that it had awarded three additional crew flights to SpaceX aboard the Dragon spacecraft, an estimated $900 million contract extension covering the Crew-7, Crew-8 and Crew-9 missions.

NASA has a similar contract with Boeing to do six operational missions for the crew aboard the Starliner spacecraft, which is still in the testing phase and has not yet flown the astronauts. The next Starliner test flight, without crew, is scheduled to launch to the space station on May 19.

Before Boeing and NASA can proceed with the Starliner test flight, astronauts on the space station will complete a delivery about a week before the Crew-3 and Crew-4 missions.

Commander Raja Chari, pilot Tom Marshburne and mission specialists Matthias Maurer and Kayla Barron set out for the Crew-3 mission last November. They will ride SpaceX’s Dragon Endurance spacecraft back to Earth next week, leaving Crew-4 astronauts at the station with three Russian cosmonauts.

The Crew-3 mission is scheduled to depart on May 4, but the schedule may change as officials monitor weather conditions at SpaceX’s seven spray areas off the coast of Florida. Directors will monitor storms, winds, and the high seas before tasking the crew to return to Earth.

The arrival of the Crew-4 mission comes three days after another SpaceX crew capsule – Dragon Endeavor – ejected from the space station along with a retired NASA astronaut and three wealthy businessmen. That mission, operated by a Houston-based company called Axiom Space, was the first all-private crew to visit the station. Former space tourists or private astronauts have traveled to the station on government-led missions.

The busy season for space station traffic began in March with the arrival of three Russian cosmonauts aboard a Soyuz spacecraft and the return of the former Soyuz crew to Earth.

Amid the comings and goings, the crew on the space station continued research and maintenance experiments. Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev were asleep at the time of the Crew-4 passenger docking on Wednesday, and were resting ahead of Thursday’s planned spacewalk to continue activating and equipping the European robotic arm outside the Nauka module.

“As you can see from the smiles around, we’re very happy to have our new colleagues on board with us,” Marshbourne said at a welcome party early Thursday. “Congratulations, really all over the world, but to SpaceX and NASA for accomplishing what is still a very dangerous activity to launch humans into space, but it did so brilliantly.

“There are really dynamic weeks,” Marshbourne said. “We just said goodbye to our colleagues on the special cosmonauts mission. There is a Russian EVA that will start here in a few hours.”

Marshburn will hand over command of the space station crew to Artemyev next week before returning to Earth.

The Crew-4 mission flew on the fourth and final planned spacecraft in SpaceX’s fleet of Dragon capsules. The astronauts on the Crew-4 mission called the new spacecraft “Freedom.”

Dragon Freedom joins sister ships Endeavor, Resilience and Endurance in SpaceX’s inventory.

Aside from working with experiments and operating the space station, Crew-4 astronauts plan to conduct at least two spacewalks in the United States to prepare for the arrival of new solar arrays for power generation. Cristoforetti may also have a chance to head outside the station on a spacewalk in a Russian spacesuit to work on the European robotic arm.

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