Crew-4 prepares to launch

Early Tomorrow morning Four astronauts will blast off from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins will be joined by the ESA’S (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti for the next long duration mission in orbit. This is of course counting on no more delays to the mission, but lift off is currently scheduled for 3:52 am E.T. Wednesday morning from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Crew-4 walking out to ride to the pad. Photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS

Launching inside a brand new Crew Dragon, aptly named Freedom, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, B1067 has already flown three previous missions, including that of Crew-3. It has also flown one Commercial Resupply Services mission to the space station, and one commercial customer payload for SpaceX. The rocket has been to space, the Crew Dragon has not. Not unlike the four crew members, two have flown to space previously, and two are making their first trip to orbit tomorrow morning.

Our commander for this mission, Kjell Lindgren is one of those who has already been to space. In 2015 he launched to the ISS (International Space Station) from Kazakhstan as a flight engineer. He also served as the backup crew for the SpaceX’s DM-2 mission, the first crewed spaceflight of the Crew Dragon capsule. Again, he was in the back up crew for Crew-1, the first operational Crewed spaceflight from American soil since the shuttle program. In February of 2021 he was assigned the commander positions for the Crew-4 mission.

The mission’s pilot is Bob Hines, who will be making his first ever space flight. Prior to his astronaut selection, Hines served as a test pilot at NASA’s Johnson Space Center as well as the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). In 2017 he was selected for NASA’s 22nd Astronaut Group and began his two year training. He also was selected for the Crew-4 mission back in February of 2021.

Mission Specialist 1, Samantha Cristoforetti, with her second space flight is an Italian astronaut and former Italian fighter pilot. Currently she holds the record for longest uninterrupted spaceflight by a European astronaut (199 days, 16 hours), and until 2017 when Peggy Whitson broke her record it held true for female astronaut as well. She also holds the title of first Italian woman in space. With over five-hundred hours and experience in six type of aircraft she transitioned into the astronaut role with ease back in 2012. Her first mission to the ISS, dubbed Futura was a long duration mission where she performed numerous scientific experiments simulating a prolonged stay in space and Lunar/Mars orbits.

Freedom atop Falcon 9. Photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS

Our final member of Crew-4 and Mission Specialist 2 is Jessica Watkins, astronaut, geologist, aquanaut, and former international rugby player. In 2009 Watkins was the chief geologist for the NASA Spaceward Bound Crew 86, which ran prototype Mars drilling at a desert research station. In 2017 she also became a member of the 22nd NASA Astronaut Group. In 2020 she was selected to be part of the Artemis Team to return humans to the Moon. In November of 2021 she was selected as the first black woman to be assigned a mission to the ISS for the Crew-4 mission. Her role will include observing and photographing geological changes to Earth along with numerous other investigations into Earth and space science, biological science and the effects of long duration spaceflights on a human’s body.

Things appear to finally be on track for the Crew-4 mission to lift off as the Axiom-1 crew was finally able to leave the space station. Both missions required the same docking port so they could not overlap. With foul weather in all the recovery zones offshore of Florida where SpaceX splashes down the crew capsules, there was no safe way to bring home that first all private crew to the space station. They were finally able to undock on Sunday evening and splashdown Monday afternoon, clearing up the space and time needed to get the next long duration space mission underway and into orbit.

Check back tomorrow to read along with how the launch went.