NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission has launched from the United States, bound for the International Space Station (ISS).
- The crew capsule will reach the space station about 17 hours after lift-off
- This launch came less than two days after another team returned from a two-week mission
- SpaceX has launched six previous human spaceflights over the past two years
If all goes according to plan, the three US astronauts and their European Space Agency (ESA) crewmate from Italy will reach the space station after a 17-hour flight.
They will then begin a six-month science mission orbiting some 420 kilometres above Earth.
The latest mission, designated Crew 4, marks the fourth time a fully fledged ISS crew NASA has been sent to orbit on board a SpaceX vehicle since the private rocket venture founded by Elon Musk began flying US space agency astronauts in 2020.
SpaceX has launched six previous human spaceflights over the past two years.
Crew 4’s commander is Kjell Lindgren, 49, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and one-time flight surgeon who is making his second trip to the ISS, where he logged 141 days in orbit in 2015.
During that expedition, he performed two spacewalks and participated in more than 100 science projects, including the “veggie” lettuce experiment that marked the first time a US crew member ate a crop grown in orbit.
Another crew member making her debut spaceflight is mission specialist Jessica Watkins, 33. The geologist earned her doctorate studying the processes behind large landslides on Mars and Earth and went on to join the science team for the Mars rover Curiosity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Dr Watkins will become the first African American woman to join a long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station. She follows in the footsteps of only seven other black astronauts to have boarded the ISS since its inception more than two decades ago.
Rounding out Crew 4 is Samantha Cristoforetti, 45, an ESA astronaut and Italian air force jet pilot making her second flight to the space station. She is slated to assume command of ISS operations during the team’s six-month stint, becoming Europe’s first woman in that role.
She and Dr Watkins previously served together as aquanauts in the Aquarius underwater habitat of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission in 2019.
The Crew 4 team will be welcomed aboard by seven existing ISS occupants, the four Crew 3 members they will be replacing — three American astronauts and a German ESA crewmate due to end their mission in early May — and three Russian cosmonauts.
The launch came less than two days after a separate four-man team organised by Houston-based company Axiom Space returned from a two-week mission as the ISS’s first all-private astronaut crew, splashing down on Monday in a different SpaceX capsule.
It also follows a flurry of recent astro-tourism flights. Last July, two commercial space operators, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, launched back-to-back suborbital flights with their respective billionaire founders, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, riding along.