WASHINGTON, Apr 27, 2022 (AFP) – Less than two days after a SpaceX Dragon capsule manned by wealthy adventurers returned to Earth off the coast of Florida, another took off on Wednesday, this time for a NASA mission to the station. International Space Station (ISS).
The Crew 4 mission took off from the Kennedy Space Center at 3:52 am local time (4:52 am GMT), with Americans Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins, as well as Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, of the European Space Agency, on board.
SpaceX’s rapid response time – just under 40 hours between retrieving one crew and sending another – is a sign of an increasingly saturated human spaceflight schedule since the company of tycoon Elon Musk became the NASA’s top astronaut taxi in 2020.
Between 2011 – when the space shuttle program ended – and 2020, NASA relied on Russian Soyuz rockets for this service.
“Think about how Cape (Canaveral) has been transformed, think about all those abandoned launch pads and how they’re coming back to life,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told the press.
Crew 4 will join the quartet of Crew 3, which is nearing the end of its five-month rotation on the ISS, as well as three Russians in the Russian segment of the orbital outpost.
A date for the return of Crew 3 will be set shortly.
Crew 4 is set to carry out hundreds of scientific experiments, including ongoing research into growing soilless plants in space.
Another experiment will be to develop an artificial human retina, taking advantage of the ISS’s microgravity environment to help form thin protein films, layer after layer.
This technology “could eventually be used to replace damaged photoreceptor cells in the eyes and potentially restore meaningful vision for millions of people suffering from retinal degenerative diseases,” said NASA scientist Heidi Parris.
The crew is expected to arrive at the space lab 17 hours after launch, with docking scheduled for 8:15 pm on Wednesday (9:15 pm GMT).