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 Giminiani | NASA
SpaceX launched a group of NASA astronauts early Wednesday morning with: Elon Musk. The company has now sent 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 a NASA operations crew, reached orbit after launch at 3:52 a.m. ET from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket took the four astronauts into space in Freedom’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
“The SpaceX team has done an amazing job,” NASA Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders said at a post-launch press conference.
The SpaceX capsule – carrying NASA astronauts Jill Lindgren, Bob Haynes and Jessica Watkins and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti – is on its way to the International Space Station. This is the first spaceflight for Heinz and Watkins, while it is the second for both Lindgren and Cristoforetti. SpaceX’s Freedom is expected to dock with the International Space Station about 16 hours after launch, at approximately 8:15 p.m. ET.
Crew of 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 to the International Space Station and will remain aboard for approximately six months. The four will join Crew 3 astronauts, which launched in November, shortly before the team’s newer Crew Dragon endurance compartment is dismantled and returned to Earth.
Musk Crew-4 was launched less than 39 hours later. Recreation of Axiom’s Ax-1 special astronaut crew, which collided with the Crew Dragon 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 it the fourth mission completed so far, and SpaceX plans to continue using it to launch future missions.
SpaceX developed its own Crew Dragon vehicle and tuned its Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which has given the company more than $3 billion to develop the system and launch six operational missions.
Commercial Crew is a competitive program. NASA has also awarded $4.8 billion in development contracts to Boeing for its Starliner spacecraft — but this capsule is still under development. An unmanned flight test in December 2019 faced significant challenges.
NASA claims that SpaceX not only gives the United States a way to send astronauts into space, but also provides the agency with a cost-effective option. The agency expects to pay each cosmonaut to fly Crew Dragon $55 million, compared to $86 million per cosmonaut for Russian Aerospace. In 2020, NASA estimated that two private companies would compete for contracts, and the agency saved between $20 billion and $30 billion in development costs.
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