SpaceX Elon Musk launches NASA Crew-4 astronaut mission

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launched the Crew-4 mission from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 27, 2022.

Aubrey Geminiani | NASA

SpaceX launched a batch of NASA astronauts early Wednesday morning, with Elon Musk’s company now sending 26 people into orbit in less than two years.

The Crew-4 mission, the company’s seventh human spaceflight to date and the fourth launch by NASA’s operational crew, reached orbit after being launched from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:52 a.m. ET. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the four astronauts into space in Freedom’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“The SpaceX team executed beautifully,” NASA Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders said at a post-launch press conference.

The SpaceX capsule – carrying NASA astronauts Jill Lindgren, Bob Haynes, Jessica Watkins and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti – is on its way to the International Space Station. This is Heinz and Watkins’ first spaceflight, while it is the second for both Lindgren and Cristoforetti. SpaceX’s Freedom is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station about 16 hours after launch, at approximately 8:15 p.m. ET.

Crew-4 astronauts, from left: Jessica Watkins, mission specialist; Bob Haynes is a pilot. Kjell Lindgren, Leader; and Samantha Cristoforetti, Senior Specialist.

Kim Shefflett | NASA

The Crew-4 team will do a full-time mission on the International Space Station, spending about six months aboard. The four will join Crew 3 astronauts, which launched in November, shortly before the latest team’s Crew Dragon endurance capsule dismantles and returns to Earth.

Musk launched the Crew-4 less than 39 hours after returning Axiom’s Ax-1 special astronaut crew, which crashed into the Crew Dragon Endeavor capsule on Monday.

After the launch, SpaceX also landed a Falcon 9 rocket booster, which is the large bottom portion of the rocket. The Falcon 9 booster rocket previously launched three missions, making this fourth flight complete to date, and SpaceX plans to continue using it to launch future missions.

SpaceX developed its own Crew Dragon vehicle and tuned its Falcon 9 rocket under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which has provided the company with more than $3 billion to develop the system and launch six operational missions.

Commercial Crew is a competitive program. NASA has also awarded contracts worth $4.8 billion to Boeing to develop its Starliner spacecraft – but this capsule is still in development due to an unmanned flight test in December 2019 that faced significant challenges.

NASA asserts that in addition to giving the United States a way to send astronauts into space, SpaceX offers the agency a cost-saving option. The agency expects to pay each astronaut $55 million to fly with the Crew Dragon, compared to $86 million each astronaut to fly with the Russians. NASA estimated in 2020 that having two private companies vying for contracts saved the agency between $20 billion and $30 billion in development costs.

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