Crew-4: SpaceX and NASA just launched astronauts to the International Space Station

NASA and SpaceX's fifth successful crewed launch to the ISS.
Chris Young
SpaceX's sixth crewed mission to the ISSSpaceX/YouTube

SpaceX and NASA chalked off yet another crew launch to the International Space Station.

The Crew-4 mission lifted off with four astronauts at 3:52 a.m. EDT (0752 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The mission is SpaceX's sixth crewed launch to the ISS, including Crew-1 through 4, and SpaceX's first-ever human spaceflight, Demo-2, which launched in May 2020. SpaceX also launched the first all-civilian mission to the space station, Ax-1, on April 8.

SpaceX and NASA's Crew-4 are making their way to the ISS

Four astronauts — NASA’s Jessica Watkins, Robert Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and the European Space Agency's Samantha Cristoforetti — are on their way to the orbital station in what will be less than a day-long journey to reach the orbital station at an altitude of roughly 250 miles.

Watkins, 33, is the first African American woman to join a long-duration mission aboard the ISS, while ESA astronaut and Italian Air Force jet pilot Cristoforetti, 45, will become the first European woman to assume command of ISS operations during the Crew-4 mission

Roughly 10 minutes after launch, the SpaceX Falcon 9 upper stage delivered the crew capsule into orbit. The reusable first stage, meanwhile, had detached itself and came back down for a smooth landing on the drone ship 'A Shortfall of Gravitas' in the Atlantic.

The SpaceX launch vehicle used for the mission is a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket, which successfully delivered a Crew Dragon Capsule called Freedom to orbit, where the astronauts are currently making their way to the ISS.

SpaceX renews focus on Mars and the Moon

After a 16-hour flight during which the crew capsule will orbit Earth roughly 10 times, the astronauts are expected to dock with the ISS at around 8:15 EDT (0015 GMT). Once aboard the station, they will begin a six-month science mission. 

They will be welcomed by SpaceX and NASA's previous Crew-3 astronauts — due to return to Earth in May — and three Russian cosmonauts.

The Crew-4 launch comes less than two days after SpaceX and Axiom Space's all-civilian Ax-1 mission returned to Earth after two weeks aboard the ISS, splashing down on Monday.

In a radio communication back to Earth, one of the Crew-4 astronauts said, "it is a privilege to get to fly this new vehicle into orbit."

The new Freedom capsule is the last Crew Dragon Capsule SpaceX will manufacture, at least for the time being, as it recently announced it would cease making new capsules to focus on developing its Moon and Mars-bound Starship launch vehicle. In March, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced that Starship could make its orbital maiden flight as soon as May.

SpaceX has successfully brought back routine human spaceflight from U.S. soil to the International Space Station and now it has its sights set on achieving its CEO's goal of making humanity a multi-planetary species — if he's not too distracted messing around with Twitter, that is.

This was a developing news story and was updated regularly.

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