Miami, Apr 26 (EFE).- Two men and two women, three of them from NASA and one from the European Space Agency, will lift off early Wednesday morning for the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral on another of the US space agency’s scientific missions into orbit.
The Crew-4 mission will travel into space aboard the SpaceX Dragon Freedom capsule, which will be lifted into orbit by a Falcon 9 rocket made by the private space firm, with the launch coming at 3:42 am on April 27 and the docking with the ISS scheduled for a little more than 17 hours later, according to mission officials.
The crew consists of NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins, and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, from Italy, who will carry out a mission similar to the one last November to the orbital platform.
The plan is for the Crew-4 astronauts to stay aboard the ISS for about six months performing scientific research and making two spacewalks to replace the solar panels of the aging orbital platform, which circles the Earth about 250 miles high.
The crew will carry out research in materials science, health technology and plant science to prepare for human exploration outside Low Earth Orbit and to provide benefits to mankind on Earth.
Among the more than 200 experiments to be conducted are studies on organic materials, solutions for degenerative eye diseases and the aging of the human body’s immunological systems and concrete alternatives for the deleterious cardiorespiratory effects from prolonged exposure to microgravity.
Ensuring safety for a crewed flight of this kind has to be taken “step by step,” said Kathryn Lueders, the head of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, at a Tuesday press conference.
The launch of the Crew-4 has been postponed several times due to the delay in the departure of the Dragon Endeavour capsule from the ISS with the four astronauts of the Ax-1 mission, the first private, commercial crewed space flight to the orbiting platform.
Ax-1 returned to Earth last Sunday and thus the docking mechanism on the Harmony module is now freed up for the Crew-4 craft to use to attach itself to the ISS.
The arrival of the Dragon Freedom capsule, which can transport up to seven people, at the ISS is scheduled for 8:55 pm on April 27.
Construction of the Dragon Freedom, which is outfitted with USB ports – a new feature – was recently completed at the SpaceX factory, although this will be the fourth flight into space for the Falcon 9 rocket, part of which is reusable.
Lindgren and Hines were tapped for the Crew-4 mission in February 2021, Cristoforetti in March 2021 and Watkins last November.
According to NASA, the crew decided to call the capsule “Freedom” in honor of a “fundamental human right,” as well as to recall the 1961 Freedom 7 space mission, the first US manned flight into space with astronaut Alan Shepherd on board.
This will be the first space flight for Hines and Watkins and the second for Lindgren and Cristoforetti.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said Tuesday that US space activity is going through a “golden age” as a result of an alliance with private firms like SpaceX which has enabled this country to resume cargo and crewed flights to the ISS from US soil, flights that had been suspended from 2011 to 2020 due to the end of the space shuttle program.
Nelson also mentioned the space missions mounted by private companies such as the one flown by the Houston-based startup Axiom Space that returned to Earth from the ISS last Monday with four non-governmental astronauts who spent 17 days on board the orbital platform with the current seven-member crew there.
In the not too distant future, Nelson said, there will be commercial space stations and, at least in theory, it will be possible for anyone to travel into space.
NASA associate administrator Bob Cabana said that the US space vision is becoming a reality, and the space agency says that for more than 21 years human beings have continuously lived and worked aboard the ISS to advance scientific knowledge and develop new technologies that are helping mankind to prepare for the further exploration of the Moon, but also of Mars.