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NASA and SpaceX launching the 4th long term operational crew - Crew4 mission to the ISS

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

SpaceX's 5th Spacecraft; Dragon 'Freedom' will make its first flight, scheduled for 3:52 a.m. EDT (0752 UTC).

Crew-4 astronauts Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Samantha Cristoforetti on boarding Crew Dragon "Freedom." (Image credit: SpaceX)

NASA and SpaceX plan for the launch of the Crew-4 aka USCV- 4 for the International Space Station's Expedition-67 mission. The Falcon 9 FT BL5 rocket booster serial number B1067.4 is due to lift off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The teams have decided to delay a potential launch opportunity on April 26 until later this week, when the space station's relative position to KSC and orbital mechanics are more favorable. Crew-4, using the Crew Dragon C212 "Freedom" spacecraft, has another launch opportunity available Thursday, April 28, as the weather remains a critical concern on the week's schedule.

Crew-4 Infographic, by S.I and HDE

The Freedom spacecraft is due to dock in the PMA-3 / IDA-3 compartment of the American segment; Harmony Module of the International Space Station on April 28 at 01:30:00 UTC; then the C210 “Endurance” spacecraft, with the Crew-3 mission, expected to undock no earlier than April 30 at 22:00:00 UTC. Crew-4 will carry NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, mission commander, Robert Hines, pilot, and Jessica Watkins, mission specialist; and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy, who will serve as a mission specialist. After Crew-4 docks, the Crew-3 mission is expected to complete a nearly five-day transition with Crew-4 before undocking from the space station and returning to Earth. The mission of Crew-4's four crew will last about six months.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule that will fly the Crew-4 astronaut mission poised on the pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on April 20, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

The 45th Weather Squadron of the US Space Force predicts a 90% chance of favorable weather conditions in the launchpad area for the lift-off of the Crew-4 mission based on Falcon 9 v1.2 FT Block launch weather criteria 5. The main weather concerns for the launch area are cumulus clouds and flying according to precipitation rules. The teams will also monitor weather conditions for both the spaceport and the downrange corridor path of the Crew Dragon to ISS.

Crew-4 / ISS Expedition-67/68 mission.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren (Credit: NASA)

Kjell Lindgren is the spacecraft and mission commander, responsible for all phases of the flight from launch to re-entry, and will serve as the Expedition 67 flight engineer aboard the station. This will be his second spaceflight since becoming an astronaut in 2009. In 2015, he spent 141 days aboard the station as a flight engineer for Expedition 44/45. Certified in emergency medicine, he previously worked at Johnson Space Center in Houston as a flight surgeon supporting space station training and operations and served as an assistant surgeon for the STS-130 shuttle flight and Expedition 24. Lindgren was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and spent most of his childhood in England before graduating from the US Air Force Academy.

NASA astronaut Robert Hines (Credit: NASA)

Robert Hines is the spacecraft's pilot and second-in-command of the mission, being responsible for the spacecraft's systems and performance. Aboard the station, he will serve as a flight engineer for Expedition 67.

This will be his first flight since his selection as an astronaut graduated in 2017. Hines has served more than 22 years in the US Air Force as a test pilot, fighter pilot and instructor. Prior to his selection in 2017, he was a research pilot at Johnson Space Center.

Samantha Cristoforetti serves as a mission specialist, working to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic phases of flight. She will be a flight engineer for Expedition 67. This will be her second visit to the Space Station after five months in 2015 as a flight engineer for Expedition 42/43. Born in Milan, Italy, she was a fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force before being selected as an ESA astronaut in 2009. In 2019, she served as commander of NASA's 23rd Extreme Environmental Mission Operations mission on a 10-day stay at Aquarius., the world's only underwater research station.

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti with minerva patch (Credit: ESA)

Samantha selected the name Minerva for her second mission as a homage to the men and women all over the world who make human spaceflight possible.

"Minerva was also a warrior goddess, so she embodies the fortitude, the toughness and the discipline that is required of us, as well as the wisdom that we aspire to demonstrate, as we consolidate and expand human presence in space," she explains.

Throughout Minerva, Samantha will serve as a member of Expedition 67 and hold responsibility for activities within the US Orbital Segment(USOS).

This segment comprises the US, European, Japanese and Canadian modules and components of the Space Station.

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins (Credit: NASA)

Jessica Watkins is a mission specialist and will work collaboratively with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases. Once aboard the station, she will become a flight engineer for Expedition 67. Watkins was raised in Lafayette, Colorado, and studied geology at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Watkins played rugby at Stanford for four years. She is a former American women’s national team rugby player for the sevens. She was part of the US team which reached the semi-finals at the Women's Sevens World Cup in Dubai (2009) and was defeated by New Zealand. During the World Cup, she was the leading try scorer for the US team.

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 was also selected as a NASA astronaut in 2017, and this will be her first trip to space.

Crew-4 astronauts Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Samantha Cristoforetti on the Crew Dragon "Freedom." cabin training (credit: SpaceX)

Experiments onboard Crew-4 mission;

Replacement retinas Artificial retinas could restore meaningful vision for the millions of people on Earth who suffer from retinal degenerative diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration. The ISS National Lab-sponsored study Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing evaluates a manufacturing process to develop artificial human retinas using a light-activated protein called bacteriorhodopsin, which could replace the function of damaged light-sensing cells in the eye. The process creates implants by applying layer after layer of a thin film. Microgravity may improve the quality and stability of the films by limiting the aggregation and sedimentation of particles that occur on Earth. The investigators from U.S.-based company LambdaVision conducted earlier experiments on the space station to determine whether the layering process worked better in microgravity. This investigation builds on that work.

Wireless Compose-2, an investigation from ESA, demonstrates the capabilities of wireless networks to support science experiments and provide precise control and navigation of free-flying objects. One of these free-fliers is Cimon, an artificial intelligence assistant that ESA currently is testing on the space station. Wireless Compose-2 includes the operation of a German Space Agency (DLR) experiment, Ballistocardiography for Extraterrestrial Applications and long-Term missions (BEAT), that uses sensors built into a garment to monitor and measure heart parameters such as blood pressure. Normally, scientists can only access these data using sonograms and computer tomography or computerized X-ray imaging. This technology could provide greater insight into performance of the cardiovascular system in space and how it changes during a long-term space mission.

Crew-4 also continues operations for experiments already underway on the space station, including:

Student software in space

Kibo-RPC allows students to create programs to control an Astrobee, one of the space station’s free-flying robots. Sponsored by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), this program provides participants with hands-on experience with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in space, helping to inspire the next generation of explorers. During her previous flight, Cristoforetti worked on a similar student program, SPHERES-VERTIGO. For that investigation, students wrote software to use multiple free-flying satellites to construct 3D models of a target object. The ability to create such models of unknown objects in space using one or two small satellites has potential applications for a wide range of space missions. Listen to Cristoforetti talk about some of the research she conducted on her previous mission.

XROOTS uses hydroponic (liquid-based) and aeroponic (air-based) techniques to grow plants without soil or other traditional growth media. Investigators plan to use video and still images to evaluate plant growth through the entire life cycle. Current space-based plant systems are small and use particulate media-based systems to deliver water and nutrients. These do not scale up well in space due to mass, containment, maintenance, and sanitation issues. Hydroponic and aeroponic techniques could enable production of crops on a larger scale for future space exploration. The system components developed for this investigation also could enhance cultivation of plants in terrestrial settings such as greenhouses, contributing to better food security for people on Earth. On his previous mission, Lindgren worked on Veg-01, a system that cultivated plants using pillows, small expandable units containing growth medium and seeds. That experiment produced red romaine lettuce, and Lindgren became one of the first people to taste a plant grown in space. Crew-4 members are not expected to eat the XROOTS plants, which will be sent back to Earth for analysis.

Medical monitoring

Monitoring crew health on deep-space exploration missions presents unique challenges, including limited space for medical devices and the inability to return samples to Earth for analysis. The rHEALTH demonstration tests using a modified, commercial off-the-shelf device to diagnose certain medical conditions. The device uses flow cytometry, a method using lasers to sort and identify cells, and can analyze cell count and cell characteristics; detect microorganisms, biomarkers, and proteins; and diagnose health disorders such as blood cancers. The demonstration verifies that the hardware can function in the space environment and evaluates its accuracy. This technology also could provide timely, cost-effective, reliable, and convenient diagnostic tests for patients on Earth who lack access to robust healthcare infrastructure.


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