For the second time in less than three weeks, SpaceX has delivered an astronaut crew to the International Space Station (ISS).
A Dragon capsule flying to NASA’s SpaceX’s Crew-4 joined up with the orbiting laboratory today (April 27) around 7:37 p.m. EDT (2337 GMT), less than 16 hours after it lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket — the fastest crew Absolutely. Dragon’s Journey to the station. The Dragon and the Station were sailing 261 miles (420 kilometers) over the central Pacific Ocean as they met in orbit.
The gates between the two dragons, named Freedom, opened at approximately 9:15 PM EDT (0115 GMT on April 28). Crew-4 astronauts – Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins of NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) – then circled aboard the International Space Station, which will be their home for the next six months or so.
Live updates: SpaceX’s Crew-4 astronaut mission for NASA
Pictures: Stunning launch images of SpaceX’s Crew-4 launch
The Crew-4 team is joined by seven astronauts already on the International Space Station – NASA’s Thomas Marshburne, Kayla Baron and Raja Chari, ESA’s Matthias Maurer, and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov. Watkins is making history as the first black woman to fly a long-duration mission to the station.
But the population of the orbiting laboratory will soon be declining again. Marshburn, Barron, Chari and Maurer — astronauts on SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission, which launched last November — are scheduled to leave for Earth in their Dragon on or around May 4th.
As its name suggests, Crew-4 is the fourth operational astronaut mission that SpaceX has flown to the International Space Station for NASA. Its arrival at the station was the second SpaceX launch in less than three weeks.
On April 9, the Dragon Endeavor capsule reached the orbital complex with an all-private crew — the first time this has ever been done. Endeavor was flying an Ax-1, a mission organized by Houston-based Axiom Space, and three of its four crew members were paying their customers. The fourth was a former NASA astronaut and current Axiom employee Michael Lopez Alegria.
Ax-1 was supposed to leave the International Space Station on April 19, but bad weather in the expected spray area led to its departure until Sunday (April 24). This delay, in turn, delayed the Crew-4 launch from Saturday (April 23) to early Wednesday morning (April 27).
Dragon’s Ax-1’s occupied the same ISS docking port that Crew-4’s now use. Agency officials explained that NASA wanted about two days between the Ax-1 machine gun and the Crew-4 launch to analyze the data and make other preparations.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 11:05PM ET on April 27 with news of the opening of the Dragon slot.
Mike Wall is the author of “AbroadBook (Great Grand Publishing House, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrials. Follow him on Twitter Tweet embed. Follow us on Twitter Tweet embed or on Facebook.