The astronauts spent 16 hours circling their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft after its pre-sunrise launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:52 a.m. ET. The capsule, which is fully autonomous, orbited the Earth more than a dozen times and was maneuvering close to the International Space Station before making gentle, precise contact with one of the space station’s docking ports at 7:37 p.m. ET. The spacecraft hatch, which provides a secure airlock between the capsule and the space station, opened after about 90 minutes, allowing astronauts to leave the spacecraft and enter the International Space Station for the first time.
On board are NASA astronauts Gil Lindgren, Robert Haynes and Jessica Watkins and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti flying on behalf of the European Space Agency.
Here’s everything you need to know about Crew-4.
What makes this trip historic?
Jessica Watkins is the first black woman to join the space station crew for an extended stay.
Although more than a dozen black Americans — including four black women — have traveled to space since Guion Bluford became the first to do so in 1983, no black woman has had the opportunity to live and work in space for as long as the station. International Space. More than 200 astronauts have made it possible since 2000.
“This is definitely an important milestone and I think it is for us [space] “I think it’s really just a tribute to the legacy of the black women astronauts who came before me as well as to the exciting future ahead,” Watkins said during a news conference last month.
Who else is on this mission?
The crew for this mission is among the first to include as many women as the men.
Cristoforetti, who was on a previous mission to the International Space Station in 2014-2015, is the only woman on the European Space Agency’s team of astronauts. But Cristoforetti told reporters last month that the situation “will be over very soon”.
“We definitely expect to have some great females [ESA] co-workers at the end of the year.
Cristoforetti, an Italian Air Force veteran who got her fighter pilot wings, joined the European Space Agency in 2009.
Haynes is a 22-year-old US Air Force veteran, and this is the first time he has traveled to space since he was named to the NASA astronaut team in 2017.
Lindgren, the mission leader, is certified in emergency medicine, and before he was selected to fly to the sky himself, he worked as a flight surgeon on the ground at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, supporting other astronaut missions. Lindgren was born in Taiwan and spent most of his childhood in England before moving to the United States and attending the US Air Force Academy.
This group of four astronauts spent months training together, and took time to do some extracurricular bonding. Watkins noted that they went on a kayaking trip in eastern Washington “just to take the time to get to know each other and understand how we all work… and what makes each of us work, and I think that would be really crucial.”
“We get along really well,” Lindgren added. “It’s a pleasure to have these guys on this team.”
How did they get into space?
Although SpaceX designed the Crew Dragon to be reusable and three capsules are already in service, the Crew-4 flies on an entirely new spacecraft, which they have dubbed “Freedom.”
The Crew Dragon was developed by SpaceX under a $2.6 billion contract with NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Program. The idea behind the program was to move NASA into a customer role – allowing private companies to design, build and test new spacecraft to serve NASA astronauts while still giving the company ownership of the vehicle.
Since SpaceX controls the vehicle, it has the ability to sell seats to whoever wishes, hence the all-private mission that the company has just concluded and an earlier space tourism mission that launched in September of last year.
What will they do in space?
Now that they’ve arrived at the International Space Station, the crew will be occupied by the seven astronauts already aboard the International Space Station — including three NASA astronauts and one European Space Agency astronaut who were part of SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission, and three Russian cosmonauts.
There will be a delivery period of approximately five days, during which Crew-3 astronauts will help Crew-4 astronauts settle, before the Crew-3 fly home aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
Next, Crew-4 astronauts will work on all of the science experiments and space station maintenance duties on their task list.
According to NASA, “the experiments will include studies of aging of immune systems, concrete alternatives to organic materials, and cardiorespiratory effects during and after prolonged exposure to microgravity.” “These are just some of the more than 200 science experiments and technology demonstrations that will be conducted during their mission.”
Crew-4 is scheduled to return from space in September, shortly after SpaceX launched its Crew-5 mission.
CNN’s Megan Marbles contributed.