Three Americans, one Italian launch on SpaceX’s new “Freedom” spacecraft – Spaceflight Now

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon Freedom spacecraft lift off from platform 39A early Wednesday to begin the Crew-4 mission. Credit: NASA/Joel Kosky

Four astronauts blasted off into clear skies before dawn early Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, aboard SpaceX’s latest spacecraft – dubbed Freedom – to begin a planned four-and-a-half-month science journey at the station. International Space.

Commander Kjell Lindgren, along with pilot Bob “Farmer” Hines and mission specialists Samantha Cristoforetti and Jessica Watkins, took off from Historic Platform 39A at the Florida Spaceport at 3:52:55 a.m. EDT (0752:55 GMT) Wednesday , leaping into the sky over a pillar of bright orange flames from the nine Merlin main engines of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Within about a minute, the Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket were flying faster than the speed of sound, heading northeast of Kennedy over the Atlantic Ocean to line up with the space station’s path.

The Falcon 9 hit its mark with a nine-minute ascent into orbit, throwing its no longer needed first stage and igniting a single engine in the upper stage to put the Dragon Freedom spacecraft at the right height and speed to begin the mission, known as Crew-4, its fourth rotation flight. Operational SpaceX crew to the station.

The upper stage deployed the Dragon Freedom capsule to an altitude of about 120 miles (200 kilometers) about 12 minutes after liftoff. A few minutes earlier, live video from SpaceX’s boost stage showed the missile landing on a drone ship parked hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic.

Landing on the target completed the fourth flight of the booster into space. The reusable rocket – tail number B1067 – previously launched a space station cargo mission, a crew mission, and a Turkish communications satellite.

For Lindgren and his colleagues, the early morning launch was the first stage of a 16-hour journey to the space station, where they will replace Crew-3 astronauts, who have lived and worked on the complex since November.

“Freedom, LD, I hope you enjoyed your flight,” SpaceX’s launch director told the crew shortly after launch. “It has been an honor to fly you as Jill, Farmer, Samantha, Jessica. Have a safe flight to the space station. Say hello to Crew-3 for us, and we look forward to seeing you when you get home. Indeed, the dream is alive.”

“From Freedom, we want to say a big thank you to SpaceX, the commercial crew, and specifically the Falcon 9 team for an amazing flight,” replied Lindgren from space. “It is a privilege to be flying this new vehicle, the Crew Dragon Freedom, into orbit. A big thank you to the team that put it together and put it back for flight. We feel great and are looking forward to the view.”

The Crew-4 mission was launched just 39 hours after the previous SpaceX crew’s flight – a special mission for Houston-based Axiom Space – off the coast of Georgia to conclude 17 days in orbit.

The Axiom flight was the first of its kind to visit the space station – a purely commercial venture without any government leadership role. A retired NASA astronaut and three paid passengers flew into the complex to conduct science experiments and public awareness events and to experience the microgravity environment more than 250 miles above Earth.

“If we look tired, it’s probably because we’re a little tired,” said Kathy Luders, chief of NASA’s Space Operations Department. “What a busy week in space operations for NASA. Less than 40 hours ago, we had our first private astronaut mission, and the team carefully reviewed that data and then prepared for the Crew-4 launch.”

Crew-4 is a SpaceX commercial flight sponsored by the company’s multi-billion dollar contract with NASA. This is SpaceX’s seventh launch of astronauts, and the fourth operational flight for the company’s crew to the space station.

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.

Crew-4 astronauts planned to get some sleep on Wednesday before getting up in the middle of the afternoon (EST) to begin preparations for docking a space station. The automated link with the station’s Harmony module is scheduled for 8:15 PM EDT (0015 GMT Thursday).

A few hours later, the crew members will open the gates and enter the space station, joining the seven astronauts and cosmonauts already living at the research site.

NASA Commander Kjell Lindgren flies on his second space mission after spending 141 days in orbit on a long-duration expedition to the station in 2015. Cristoforetti, an ESA astronaut from Milan, Italy, flew more than 199 days in the space station in 2014 and 2015.

Haynes and Watkins are satellite publications for the first time. Both were selected to join NASA’s team of astronauts in 2017.

The flight plan calls for a minimum five-day handover between the new Crew 4 astronauts and the outgoing Crew 3 astronauts, who are tentatively scheduled to leave the station on May 4, targeting a launch off the coast of Florida around May 5, concluding their nearly six-month mission.

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

The Dragon Freedom spacecraft is SpaceX’s fourth — and likely last — spacecraft designated by humans. The crew announced last month that the new capsule would be dubbed “Freedom.”

“We want to celebrate what we see as a fundamental human right, as well as celebrate what the unfettered human spirit can do,” Lindgren said in a pre-flight press conference. “It’s also just a reflection of how far we’ve come.”

The name also honors Freedom 7, the capsule that carried astronaut Alan Shepard into suborbital space on the first US human spaceflight mission in May 1961.

“Seeing the first launch of Freedom 7, and knowing where we are today is really cool,” said Lindgren. “So we wanted to celebrate the freedom of a new generation of space publications.”

European astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti waves to her family and colleagues as she rides a Tesla Model X to Platform 39A early Wednesday. Credit: Michael Caine/Spaceflight Now/Coldlife Photography

The new Dragon Freedom spacecraft looks like the other three capsules in SpaceX’s fleet of reusable vehicles. But it does come with some upgrades, including an improvement in the voice communication system.

The astronauts also announced an addition that would be appreciated by anyone on a long road trip.

“We now have USB charging ports on this spacecraft,” Lindgren said. “This is something that goes into low Earth orbit and is going to take us to the space station, and I’m talking about USB ports.”

The charging ports will allow astronauts to power up their tablets, which contain reference materials for the trip to the space station.

“It’s the little things. After that, the coffee maker,” Lindgren joked.

“No wifi!” Hines responded.

The crew will have access to the Internet after arriving at the space station. Communications aboard the Dragon spacecraft pass through the SpaceX mission control center in Hawthorne, California.

Lindgren, 49 and a father of three, was born in Taiwan and raised in England and the United States, then attended the US Air Force Academy, where he was a member of the school’s parachute team. He later earned a medical degree and became a NASA flight surgeon before being selected to join the NASA astronaut team in 2009.

After completing his first space mission in 2015, Lindgren was assigned as a backup for NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on SpaceX’s first test flight to take people into orbit.

Haynes is a 47-year-old lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force. Born in North Carolina and raised in Pennsylvania, he served as an F-15E fighter pilot and graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School. Haynes continued to fly F-15s as a test pilot and deployed overseas in support of Special Forces operations, while also serving as a test pilot for the Federal Aviation Administration.

NASA hired Hines as a research pilot based in Houston in 2012, and the agency selected him to become an astronaut in 2017.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to begin the Crew-4 mission. Credit: Michael Caine/Spaceflight Now/Coldlife Photography

Watkins, a 33-year-old planetary geologist, will become the first black woman to live and work on the space station on a long-term mission.

“This is definitely an important milestone, I think, both for our agency and for the country,” Watkins said. “I think it’s really just a tribute to the legacy of the black women astronauts that came before, and also to the exciting future ahead.”

She was born in Maryland and considers Lafayette, Colorado, her hometown. She received her PhD in geology from UCLA, then joined the science team working on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover mission, and was involved in system design for the Perseverance rover and the Mars sample return mission.

Watkins was one of 18 NASA astronauts named in 2020 for possible future lunar missions under the agency’s Artemis lunar program. She said her work on the station, among other missions, will help advance technology and robotics for the Artemis program, along with experiments in radiation protection, human health and biological research, all areas geared toward enabling longer, farther missions in space.

“Because NASA orbits the Moon and Mars, that focal point is the space station,” Haynes said. “So all of this technology is going to the space station, where we develop and improve before we turn it into a hub and send it to the moon and eventually to Mars.”

Cristoforetti, 44, has clocked more time in space than any of her fellow crew members. Like Lindgren, she launched her first space mission aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket and spacecraft.

She holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Technical University of Munich. She was a fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force before being selected by the European Space Agency as part of the 2009 Class of Astronauts.

The astronauts will walk in space and conduct experiments during their time on the space station. Cristoforetti may have a chance to head outside the station in a Russian spacesuit to help activate the European robotic arm.

The Crew-4 mission is scheduled to end in mid-September with re-entry and spraying off the coast of Florida. NASA’s Crew-5 mission is scheduled to launch to the space station in early September.

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