SpaceX set to launch next crew of space station astronauts for NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 26 (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX was due to launch the next crew of long-duration astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) early on Wednesday for NASA, including a doctor-turned-spacewalker and geologist specializing in Martian landslides.

The SpaceX launch vehicle, consisting of a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket topped with a Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Freedom, was scheduled to lift off with its four-member crew at 3:52 a.m. EDT (0752 GMT) from Kennedy Space Center in the NASA in Cape Town. Canaveral, Florida.

If all goes as planned, the three American astronauts and their Italian teammate from the European Space Agency (ESA) will reach the space station about 17 hours later to begin a six-month science mission in orbit about 420 km above of the earth.

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During a pre-launch briefing on Tuesday, NASA officials said the forecast called for a 90% chance of favorable weather conditions for an on-time liftoff.

“Flying safely with a crew means you have to take it one step at a time,” Kathryn Lueders, NASA associate administrator for space operations, told reporters. “We hope you can see a very, very nice stage, and we’ll get our crew into orbit safely.”

The latest mission, designated Crew 4, would mark the fourth full ISS crew sent by NASA into orbit aboard a SpaceX vehicle since the private rocket company founded by Musk, who also owns the carmaker Electric Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), started flying. The US space agency’s astronauts in 2020. In all, SpaceX has launched six previous manned spaceflights in the past two years.

Dr. Kjell Lindgren, 49, a board-certified emergency physician and former flight surgeon, has been named commander of Crew 4. He is making his second trip to the ISS, where he spent 141 days in orbit in 2015.

During this expedition, he completed two spacewalks and participated in more than 100 science projects, including the “Veggie” lettuce experiment which marked the first time an American crew member ate a culture grown in orbit.

The designated pilot for the mission is rookie astronaut Bob Hines, 47, a US Air Force fighter pilot, test pilot and aviation instructor who has accumulated more than 3,500 flight hours in 50 aircraft types. aircraft and flew 76 combat missions.

Jessica Watkins, 33, a geologist who earned her doctorate studying the processes behind large landslides on Mars and Earth, has joined the Mars Curiosity rover science team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. .

The Crew 4 flight will make Watkins the first African-American woman to join a long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station. She follows in the footsteps of only seven other black astronauts to board the ISS since its creation more than two decades ago.

Rounding out Crew 4, Samantha Cristoforetti, 45, an ESA astronaut and Italian Air Force jet pilot, is making her second flight to the space station and is expected to assume command of operations for the space station. ISS during the team’s six months, becoming the first European woman placed in this role.

Cristoforetti and Watkins previously served together as aquanauts in the Aquarius underwater habitat on NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission in 2019.

The Crew 4 team will be welcomed on board by seven current occupants of the ISS, the four members of Crew 3 they will replace – three American astronauts and a German ESA crew member who are due to complete their mission early May – and three Russian cosmonauts.

The launch comes less than two days after a separate four-man team organized by Houston-based company Axiom Space returned from a two-week mission as the ISS’s first fully private astronaut crew, splashing Monday in another SpaceX capsule. Read more

This also follows a wave of recent astro-tourist flights. Last July, two commercial space operators, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic Holding Inc, launched back-to-back suborbital flights with their respective billionaire founders, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.

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Reporting by Joe Skipper in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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