NASA launches long-duration crew to space station

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On the heels of the archetypal all-private commercialized formation to the International Space Station, 4 nonrecreational astronauts rocketed distant aboriginal Wednesday and acceptable disconnected to the laboratory analyzable to regenerate 4 long-duration presumption fliers who program to instrumentality to Earth adjacent week.

Strapped into a marque caller SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket, Crew-4 commandant Kjell Lindgren, aviator Robert Hines, geologist-astronaut Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti blasted disconnected from historical pad 39A astatine the Kennedy Space Center astatine 3:52 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

Lighting up the heavy overnight nighttime entity for miles around, the slender rocket's 9 archetypal signifier engines, generating 1.7 cardinal pounds of thrust, rapidly boosted the Crew Dragon distant connected a northeasterly trajectory straight into the level of the abstraction station's orbit -- a request for rendezvous missions.

042722-launch1.jpg A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying 4 astronauts successful a Crew Dragon capsule lights up the nighttime entity with a superb pitchy of occurrence arsenic its 9 archetypal signifier engines statesman the ascent to orbit. It was the 2nd Falcon 9 motorboat successful six days and the 16th truthful acold this year. William Harwood/CBS News

Two-and-a-half minutes aft liftoff, good retired of the dense little atmosphere, the archetypal signifier fell away, flipped astir and headed for touchdown connected an off-shore landing barge portion the Falcon 9's 2nd signifier continued the ascent to orbit.

Then, successful speedy succession, the 2nd signifier motor unopen down, the archetypal signifier successfully landed and the Crew Dragon was released to alert connected its own. If each goes well, Lindgren and Hines volition show an automated 16-hour 22-minute rendezvous with the abstraction station, gliding successful for docking astatine the Harmony module's precocious larboard astatine 8:15 p.m.

It is the 2nd abstraction formation for Cristoforetti and Lindgren, who flew to the presumption aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft successful 2014 and 2015 respectively, and the archetypal formation for Watkins and Hines.

"I cognize a small spot what to expect during launch," Lindgren said earlier takeoff. "But for me, getting to motorboat from here, from the Kennedy Space Center, from a historical motorboat pad with an unthinkable bequest of exploration, is very, precise meaningful."

The launching marked SpaceX's 150th Falcon 9 flight, it's 16th this twelvemonth and its 5th this month.

It is the archetypal formation for the Crew Dragon "Freedom," the 4th and, for now, last Crew Dragon capsule to rotation disconnected the SpaceX assembly enactment successful Hawthorne, California, and the 4th formation of the Falcon 9's archetypal stage, the astir for immoderate booster assigned to a NASA astronaut flight.

"This is (NASA's) 4th unit rotation mission," said Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. "It's astir surreal that we're present connected this 4th mission, launching 4 unit (members) successful the 4th period of the twelvemonth connected our fourth-flight booster. So it's benignant of a 4-4-4 ngo for us. It's a immense accomplishment for our squad and the industry."

042722-launch3.jpg A long-range tracking camera captures the plume of the archetypal signifier engines arsenic the exhaust spreads retired successful the low-pressure precocious atmosphere. SpaceX

The motorboat primitively was planned for April 23, but the formation was delayed erstwhile precocious winds and unsmooth seas postponed the instrumentality to Earth of 4 backstage citizens making the archetypal fully-commercial sojourn to the abstraction station. The Axiom 1 unit finally made it location Monday, splashing down successful the Atlantic Ocean adjacent Jacksonville, Florida, to wide the mode for Crew-4's takeoff.

The motorboat and rendezvous were timed to get the Crew-4 Dragon to the presumption good up of a spacewalk Thursday by cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev. As it is, the SpaceX capsule volition dock portion the station's 3 cosmonauts are asleep.

Rather than waking them up aboriginal connected the eve of a analyzable spacewalk, a accepted welcome-aboard ceremonial for the Crew-4 astronauts volition beryllium delayed respective hours until the cosmonauts, on with crewmate Sergey Korsakov, aftermath up to statesman their engaged day.

Lindgren's unit is replacing Crew-3 commandant Raja Chari, aviator Thomas Marshburn, submariner-turned-astronaut Kayla Barron and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer, launched to the abstraction presumption past November.

Before heading home, the Crew-3 astronauts volition familiarize their replacements with the ins and outs of presumption operations, reviewing information procedures and ongoing research. If each goes well, Chari and his crewmates volition undock adjacent Wednesday and instrumentality to Earth to adjacent retired a 174-day mission.

"Once we get onto abstraction station, we'll person a small spot of adaptation time, inactive getting utilized to zero G (gravity), moving around, and conscionable letting our bodies accommodate to it," Hines said.

"And portion we're doing that, we'll besides beryllium talking with our crewmates up there. They'll beryllium handing disconnected a batch of the things that they've been moving on, teaching america immoderate tricks of the commercialized and conscionable immoderate currency, really, of however things person been operating up determination truthful that we tin prime up and marque a seamless transition."

Watkins, who holds a doctorate successful geology and helped program the subject carried retired by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover during a stint astatine the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the accidental to survey Earth from "from that vantage point, spot each of the processes and features from that perspective, it's conscionable ace exciting."

042722-walkout1.jpg European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, foreground, waves to friends and household gathered to bid the Crew-4 astronauts farewell earlier they headed to the motorboat pad to strap successful for takeoff. NASA

And adjuvant to her crewmates.

"There are truthful galore times wherever you're looking astatine it ... but you privation to recognize what it is that you're looking astatine and there's truly nary mode to bash that," Lindgren said. "And present we person a way. So convey you up of time, Watty, for your service!"

Watkins volition beryllium the 17th African American to alert successful space, the 5th pistillate of colour and the archetypal to marque a long-duration enactment aboard the abstraction station. In a pre-launch interrogation with CBS News, she called that "an important milestone for the bureau and for the country."

"I surely benignant of basal connected the shoulders of giants," she said. "I americium honored to beryllium a tiny portion of a bequest of achromatic women astronauts that came earlier maine and benignant of laid the instauration and enabled maine to beryllium present today.

"It surely has been important to maine successful my beingness to person relation models that looked similar maine coming from backgrounds akin to excavation that are contributing successful ways that I aspire to contribute. And truthful to the grade that I'm capable to bash that, I'm decidedly grateful for the opportunity."

Lindgren and institution program to stay aboard the presumption until mid September, erstwhile different Crew Dragon volition bring up their replacements.

The cautiously choreographed unit rotation series comes amid heightened planetary hostility arsenic Russia's penetration of Ukraine drags on, raising questions astir the on-going practice required to run the International Space Station.

Lindgren said NASA and his unit "are surely not immune to the the geopolitical concern close now. These are precise challenging times."

"But this is our job," helium said. "We've been fixed the privilege of this mission, going to the abstraction station, maintaining its operation, and conducting the subject and probe that truthful galore from astir the satellite person invested in, and successful creating that operational span for the programs successful beforehand of us, satellite and Mars. So we instrumentality that precise seriously."

crew-hawthorne.jpg The Crew-4 astronauts during grooming (left to right): Jessica Watkins, Robert Hines, commandant Kjell Lindgren and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. SpaceX

And that includes moving intimately with Artemyev, Matveev and Korsakov, who arrived astatine the outpost March 18 aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

"We precise overmuch look guardant to getting connected orbit and moving with our Russian colleagues," Lindgren said. "Oleg, Sergey and Denis are astonishing abstraction fliers. We've had the accidental to bid with them, to person meals with them and we precise overmuch look guardant to moving with them successful orbit."

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Tuesday helium remains assured Russia volition proceed its information successful the International Space Station task done 2030.

"Despite the horrors that we are seeing with our eyes regular connected tv of what's happening successful Ukraine arsenic a effect of governmental decisions that are being made by the president of Russia, contempt each of that ... I spot that nonrecreational narration with astronauts and cosmonauts and the crushed teams successful the 2 respective ngo controls, I spot that continuing."

In: Spacewalk International Space Station NASA SpaceX

William Harwood

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Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. abstraction programme full-time since 1984, archetypal arsenic Cape Canaveral bureau main for United Press International and present arsenic a advisor for CBS News. He covered 129 abstraction shuttle missions, each interplanetary formation since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune and scores of commercialized and subject launches. Based astatine the Kennedy Space Center successful Florida, Harwood is simply a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia."