NASA, SpaceX Crew-4 mission set for early Wednesday launch to ISS

NASA, SpaceX Crew-4 mission set for early Wednesday launch to ISS

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Early Wednesday morning the four astronauts of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission will finally get their chance to blast off to the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins will be joined by European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti as they embark on NASA’s next long-duration mission. 

Barring any more delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 will send a brand new Crew Dragon capsule and its four crew members on their way to the ISS during an instantaneous launch window at 3:52 a.m. EDT, Wednesday, April 27, from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. 

If for any reason the liftoff does not occur exactly on time, the crew will have to wait at least another 24 hours for their chance to reach space. 

Meet the crew members

The crew arrived in Florida aboard a NASA-owned jet last Monday and have since been in quarantine continuing to prepare for their flight at KSC.

“We’re just incredibly grateful for this opportunity to be a part of a larger team that includes Kennedy Space Center, all the space centers here in the U.S., our commercial partners, and our international partners,” said Crew-4 Mission Commander, Kjell Lindgren. “(We are the) part of the team that gets to go up to the space station and conduct the science and research to improve life here on earth and to extend our presence in the solar system.”

The science mission expected to last six months aboard the ISS will be a second-time journey for Lindgren and Cristoforetti and a first-time experience for Hines and Watkins.

Lindgren was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2009 and launched to space in 2015 aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule bound for the ISS. He has spent a total of 141 days in space and has two spacewalks under his belt.

“We feel prepared, we are confident in our skills, and we’re excited to fly and to put those skills to work,” said Lindgren. “A long-duration expedition on station with this group, I think, is going to be very fulfilling and incredibly fun.”

First-time flyer Bob Hines was selected by NASA for astronaut training in 2017. He served as a pilot for more than 21 years in the United State Air Force. Before applying to be an astronaut he was a research pilot at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

In a pre-mission media event, he said that the families that get left behind are the true superstars of any long-duration mission to space, “We are all grateful for the sacrifices that our families make for us to be able to go do this incredible adventure.”

He has three daughters with his wife, Kelli. “I’m going to incredibly miss my family while we’re gone,” he said.

He will be bringing photos and short video clips of his family to space, “Those things will just kind of warm my heart in the times when I’m missing my family.”

Jessica Watkins joins Hines as the other Crew-4 first-timer in space. She is part of the same astronaut class as Hines selected by NASA in 2017.

Watkins has a doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles where she collaborated as a member of the science team for the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity.

“We are super, super pumped to get up there and get to have this once in a lifetime experience,” said Watkins. “To be able to look down on our home, from our perch up on orbit, it’s just going to be super awesome.”

Samantha Cristoforetti is from Milan, Italy. After serving in the Italian Air Force she joined the European Space Agency representing Italy in 2009.

In 2014 she logged 200 days in space after launching to the ISS as a flight engineer on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

New ride to space

Together, the members of Crew-4 decided to name their fresh new SpaceX Crew Dragon ride to space, “Freedom.”

“The name celebrates a fundamental human right, and the industry and innovation that emanate from the unencumbered human spirit,” said Lindgren in a Twitter post.

According to a NASA statement, the name also recalls Freedom 7, the spacecraft that carried Alan Shepard as the first American launched into space on May 5, 1961.

The Crew Dragon capsule  “Freedom” rounds out SpaceX’s fleet of astronaut capsules joining Crew Dragon “Endurance,” “Endeavour,” and “Resilience.”

Crew Dragon now, Moon missions later

Of the crew, Kjell Lindgren and Jessica Watkins have a special interest in another rocket, NASA’s Space Launch System, that sits on launch pad 39B, just a short distance from the SpaceX rocket that they will board to go to space on Wednesday.

The pair were selected by NASA in December 2020 as part of the agency’s Artemis Team.

Under the agency’s Artemis program, members of the team of 18 astronauts will be eligible to launch on SLS for future moon missions as part of the agency’s initiative to return humans to the lunar surface.

The SLS has still yet to complete a final critical pre-flight test known as the “wet dress rehearsal.” 

Last week, agency officials announced that during an opportunity of downtime while an off-site supplier of gaseous nitrogen performs upgrades, the SLS would be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to complete repairs.

The latest delay in the mega moon rocket test timeline is expected to last weeks. 

Once repaired, NASA hopes to roll the rocket back out to the launch pad to attempt another go at a full run-through of the “wet dress rehearsal.”

The test will require fully fueling the main and upper stages of the rocket before teams run through a full countdown sequence concluding the test at a mock T-0, just before the engines would ignite. 

If everything goes according to plan, the SLS will then be prepped for flight and will soar to lunar orbit later this summer for the agency’s Artemis I demonstration mission sending the uncrewed Orion capsule around the moon and back.

“Maybe we’ll be on orbit, when that thing launches,” said Hines. “We’d love to be on the ground at some point and watch it. But I think we’d all rather be in space, honestly.”

A successful Artemis I mission will set up  Artemis II, a mission to send two Artemis Team astronauts to lunar orbit, which is slated to launch sometime in 2024. 

For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.

Rocket launch Wednesday, Apr. 27

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9 with Crew Dragon “Freedom”
  • Mission: Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station
  • Launch Window: 3:52 a.m. EDT, Instantaneous — must launch on time
  • Launch Complex: 39A at KSC
  • Astronauts: Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, and Jessica Watkins, and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti 
  • Trajectory: Northeast
  • Landing: Drone ship

Visit floridatoday.com/space for real-time updates and live video on launch day.

Kjell Lindgren

  • NASA Astronaut: Selected in 2009
  • Mission Designation: Crew-4 Commander
  • From: born in Taiwan, grew up in the midwestern U.S
  • Experience: 141 days in space, two spacewalks

Bob Hines

  • NASA Astronaut: Selected in 2017
  • Mission Designation: Crew-4 Pilot
  • From: Fayetteville, North Carolina
  • Experience: Former U.S. Air Force & NASA test pilot

Jessica Watkins

  • NASA Astronaut: Selected in 2017
  • Mission Designation: Crew-4 Mission Specialist
  • From:  Lafayette, Colorado
  • Experience: Previous analog astronaut & aquanaut

Samantha Cristoforetti

  • ESA Astronaut: Selected in 2009
  • Mission Designation: Crew-4 Mission Specialist
  • From: Milan, Italy
  • Experience: 200 days in space

Jamie Groh is a space reporter for Florida Today. You can contact her at JGroh@floridatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlteredJamie.



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