The astronauts had spent 16 hours in orbit at 3.52 a.m. ET aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft after a predawn launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule, which is fully autonomous, orbited Earth more than ten times, maneuvering closer to the ISS before making soft, precise contact with one of the space station’s docking ports at 7:37 PM ET. The spacecraft’s hatch, which provides a secure airlock between the capsule and the space station, was opened about 90 minutes later, allowing the astronauts to exit the spacecraft and enter the ISS for the first time.
On board are NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who flies on behalf of the European Space Agency.
Here’s everything you need to know about Crew-4.
What makes this flight historic?
Jessica Watkins is the first black woman to join the space station crew for an extended stay.
Although more than a dozen black Americans — including four black women — have traveled to space since Guion Bluford was the first to do so in 1983, not a single black woman has had the opportunity to live and work in space for any length of time. , as the ISS has been able to do for more than 200 astronauts since 2000.
“This is certainly an important milestone, I think for both our [space] agency and for the country,” Watkins said at a news conference last month. “I think it’s really just a tribute to the legacy of the black female astronauts who came before me, as well as the exciting future that lies ahead.”
Who else is on this mission?
The crew of this mission is one of the first to include as many women as men.
Cristoforetti, who was on a previous mission to the ISS in 2014-2015, is the only woman in ESA’s astronaut corps. But Cristoforetti told reporters last month that the situation “would end very soon”.
“We definitely expect to have some amazing women [ESA] colleagues by the end of the year,” she added.
Cristoforetti, an Italian Air Force veteran who has earned her fighter pilot’s wings, joined ESA in 2009.
Hines is a 22-year veteran of the United States Air Force, and this is his first time traveling to space since he was selected to the NASA astronaut corps in 2017.
Lindgren, the commander of this mission, is certified in emergency medicine, and before being selected to take to the skies himself, he worked as a flight surgeon on the ground at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, supporting other astronaut missions. Lindgren was born in Taiwan and spent much of his childhood in England before moving to the United States and attending the US Air Force Academy.
This group of four astronauts trained together for months, and they even took some time to make extracurricular contacts. Watkins noted that they went on a kayaking trip in eastern Washington “just to spend some time getting to know each other and understanding how we all function…and what drives us, and I think that’s going to be really crucial.” .”
“We get along well. It’s just so nice to have these people on this team,” Lindgren added.
How did they get into space?
Although SpaceX designed the Crew Dragon to be reusable and three capsules are already in use, Crew-4 flies aboard a brand new spacecraft, which they named “Freedom”.
The Crew Dragon was developed by SpaceX under a $2.6 billion contract with NASA as part of the “Commercial Crew Program.” The idea behind the program was to give NASA a customer role — allowing private companies to design, build, and test a new spacecraft to serve NASA astronauts, while still giving the company ownership of the vehicle.
Because SpaceX drives the vehicle, it has the ability to sell seats to whoever it wants, hence the completely private mission the company just completed and a previous space tourism mission that kicked off last September.
What are they going to do in space?
Now that they’ve arrived on the ISS, the crew will become entangled with the seven astronauts already aboard the ISS – including three NASA astronauts and an ESA astronaut who were part of SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission, and three Russian cosmonauts.
There is a transfer window of approximately five days, during which the Crew-3 astronauts help the Crew-4 astronauts settle in, before Crew-3 returns home aboard their own SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
Then the Crew-4 astronauts get to work on all the science experiments and space station maintenance tasks they have on their to-do list.
“Experiments include studies on immune system aging, concrete alternatives of organic matter, and cardiorespiratory effects during and after prolonged exposure to microgravity,” NASA said. “These are just some of the more than 200 science experiments and technology demonstrations that will take place during their mission.”
Crew-4 is scheduled to return from space in September, shortly after SpaceX launched its Crew-5 mission.
Megan Marples of DailyExpertNews contributed.