Crew-4 is off to the Station

Name someone who at some point in their life didn’t want to be an astronaut. The answer is no one. Ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up and they all say an astronaut. Being an astronaut is the ultimate dream job for everyone of all ages. Why? Because you get to go to space, and there’s nothing cooler than going into space. For context, even if you’re not a sports fan you have watched the Super Bowl at least once in your life. It is one of the most watched and most lauded sports championship games in the entire world, and yet despite all its media attention and halftime shows and all-time great finishes, the Super Bowl still holds a candle to being able to go to space. Eat your heart out, Tom Brady. Going into space is just awesome, and there’s nothing like it.

Just ask the astronauts of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 who blasted off into orbit, and to the International Space Station (ISS), on April 27 at 3:52am EDT (12:52am PDT). They will undoubtedly tell you how awesome it is going to space onboard their Dragon spacecraft. The initial g-forces pushing on their body at liftoff and eventually giving way to the feeling of weightlessness literally minutes later is something they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Crew-4 consists of three NASA astronauts, Mission Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines, and Mission Specialist Jessica Watkins, and one European Space Agency astronaut, Mission Specialist Samantha Cristoforetti. The Crew-4 astronauts will spend several months aboard the space station conducting new scientific research in areas such as materials science, health technologies, and plant science to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and to benefit life on Earth.

Lindgren is commander of the Dragon spacecraft and the Crew-4 mission. He is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry, and will serve as an Expedition 67 flight engineer. This will be Lindgren’s second spaceflight since becoming an astronaut in 2009. In 2015, he spent 141 days aboard the orbital laboratory as a flight engineer for expeditions 44 and 45. Board certified in emergency medicine, he previously worked at NASA Johnson as a flight surgeon supporting space station training and operations and served as a deputy crew surgeon for space shuttle flight STS-130 and Expedition 24. Lindgren was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and spent most of his childhood in England before graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Portrait of Expedition 44/45 astronaut Kjell Lindgren in EMU (Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford)

Hines is the pilot of the Dragon spacecraft and second in command for the mission. He is responsible for spacecraft systems and performance. Aboard the station, he will serve as an Expedition 67 flight engineer. This will be his first flight since his selection as an astronaut in 2017. Hines has served more than 22 years in the U.S. Air Force as a test pilot, fighter pilot, and instructor pilot. Before his selection in 2017, he was a research pilot at Johnson.

2017 NASA Astronaut Candidate – Bob Hines. Photo Date: June 6, 2017. Location: Ellington Field – Hangar 276, Tarmac. (Credit: NASA / Robert Markowitz)

Watkins is a mission specialist for Crew-4 and will work closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. Once aboard the station, she will seve as a flight engineer for Expedition 67. Watkins grew up in Lafayette, Colorado, and studied geology at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, and the University of California, Los Angeles. As a geologist, she studied the surface of Mars and was a science team collaborator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, working on the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. She also was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2017, and this will be her first trip to space.

2017 NASA Astronaut Candidate Jessica Watkins. (Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford)

Cristoforetti will also serve as a mission specialist, working to monitor the Dragon spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. She will serve as a flight engineer for Expedition 67. This will be her second trip to space following five months in 2015 as a flight engineer for Expeditions 42 and 43. Born in Milan, Italy, she was a fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force prior to being selected as an ESA astronaut in 2009. In 2019, she served as commander for NASA’s 23rd Extreme Environment Mission Operations mission on a 10-day stay in Aquarius, the world’s only undersea research station.

European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, attired in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuit. (Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz)

Commercial Crew Program and Future Missions

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) provides commercially-operated crew transportation service to and from the ISS under a SpaceX contract to NASA and began providing service in 2020 using the Crew Dragon spacecraft. While this latest mission is designated Crew-4, it is actually the fifth crewed mission to the ISS, with the first being Demo-2 that launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS in March 2020, followed by Crew-1 (November 2020), Crew-2 (April 2021), and Crew-3 (November 2021). Future planned CCP missions onboard Crew Dragon are Crew-5 (September 2022), Crew-6 (April 2023), and Crew-7 (September 2023). SpaceX is currently contracted up to Crew-9 to ferry astronauts to the ISS, as NASA hopes to maintain an uninterrupted U.S. capability for human access to the ISS.

Logo for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (Credit: NASA)

Going to space is everyone’s dream, and Crew-4 just became the latest members of humanity to live out that dream. As access to space slowly opens to everyone, it’s only a matter of time until many more Earthlings will be able to live out their own dream as they literally float among the stars while looking down at our precious blue world.

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: NASA Press Release, NASA (1), NASA (2), NASA (3)

Featured Image: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti onboard, Wednesday, April 27, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)