Four astronauts, three from NASA and one from the European Space Agency, arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday and docked their SpaceX capsule, two days after the last crew to depart the orbiting outpost returned to Earth.
Rendezvous of the Crew Dragon capsule with the station less than 16 hours after launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, marked one of the fastest flights by Elon Musk’s SpaceX to the ISS from liftoff to docking, NASA webcast commentators said.
The fully automated docking took place at about 7:37pm local Florida time (23:37 GMT) while the Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Freedom, and the space station were flying about 420km (260 miles) above the central Pacific Ocean, according to NASA.
The Freedom crew consists of three NASA astronauts from the US – flight commander Kjell Lindgren, 49; mission pilot Bob Hines, 47; and mission specialist Jessica Watkins, 33 – as well as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, 45, of the European Space Agency (ESA).
The new arrivals will join the seven existing ISS occupants, the four-member team they will be replacing – three Americans and a German ESA crewmate due to end their mission in early May – and three Russian cosmonauts.
The Freedom crew are the fourth full-fledged ISS crew NASA has launched aboard a SpaceX vehicle since the California-based rocket company began flying US space agency astronauts in 2020.
Team leader Lindgren, an emergency medicine physician and one-time flight surgeon, is making his second trip to the ISS, where he logged 141 days in orbit and performed two spacewalks in 2015.
Cristoforetti, an ESA astronaut and Italian Air Force jet pilot, is on her second trip to the space station and slated to assume command of ISS operations during the team’s six-month stint, becoming Europe’s first woman in that role.
Watkins, a geologist who earned her doctorate studying large landslides on Mars and Earth, is on her first space mission and will become the first African-American woman to join a long-duration mission on the ISS.
Hines, also on his first trip to space, is a US Air Force fighter pilot who has accumulated more than 3,500 hours of flight time in 50 types of aircraft and flown 76 combat missions.
The ISS is the largest artificial object in space and has been continuously occupied since November 2000, thanks to a US-Russian-led international consortium of five space agencies from 15 countries.
An international crew of at least seven typically lives and works aboard the platform while travelling at 8km (5 miles) per second, circling Earth once about every 90 minutes.