Private aerospace company SpaceX launched another crew to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday, its second big mission in a week that signals a faster turnaround in the company’s operations.
Four NASA astronauts on the new mission, dubbed the Crew-4, blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center at around 0752 GMT, just under 40 hours after another SpaceX Dragon Capsule touched down off the coast of Florida.
What does the mission entail?
Live streams minutes before blastoff showed NASA officials closing the hatch to the SpaceX Dragon Freedom Spacecraft as the suited astronauts belted in. The crew is slated to arrive at the ISS between 16 to 17 hours after liftoff.
The NASA crew, which includes three US-astronauts and an Italian from the European Space Agency (ESA), will be conducting hundreds of scientific experiments, including researching the possibilities for no-soil growth in space.
Another experiment could see the development of an artificial human retina in the microgravity environment on the ISS.
NASA scientist Heidi Parris said that technology “could eventually be used to replace damaged photoreceptor cells in the eyes and potentially restore meaningful vision to the millions of people who suffer from retinal degenerative disease.”
Astronaut Jessica Watkins, 33, a Martian landslides specialist is making her space debut and is the first African American woman to join a long-duration spaceflight mission on the ISS. Only seven other Black astronauts have been aboard the station since its inception.
Dr. Kjell Lindgren, 49, is the mission’s commander, making his second trip to the ISS, after a 2015 orbit. First-timer, Bob Hines, an experienced test pilot, is piloting the mission. Meanwhile, ESA astronaut and Italian Air Force jet pilot, Samantha Cristoforetti, is set to command ISS operations during the six-month stint.
Fourth NASA mission taxied by SpaceX
The Crew-4 mission marks the fourth full-fledged NASA crew sent aboard a SpaceX vehicle.
Owned by Elon Musk, who also owns electric carmaker Tesla, SpaceX has become NASA’s preferred space taxi since 2020. In total, the spacecraft company has launched six human spaceflights in the past two years.
The astronauts will be welcomed aboard the ISS by three US astronauts and one German ESA crewmate on Crew-3, as well as three Russian cosmonauts. The Crew-3 members are set to complete their mission in early May.
NASA’s new mission aboard SpaceX comes amid a recent rush for spacetime.
On Monday, a four-man team organized by Houston-based Axiom Space returned from a two-week mission aboard the ISS — the first-ever private crew on an orbit mission.
And last July, billionaire founders Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson launched back-to-back suborbital flights on their respective commercial operators — Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.
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