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NASA's Crew-4 mission with SpaceX

Set to launch NET April 27 at 3:52 am E.T. from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center

With the Axiom-1 mission now safely back on Earth the Crew-4 mission is set to launch tomorrow morning from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Ax1, a ten-day trip to space, with eight of those days planned for the crew to live inside the International Space Station nearly doubled their time in space due to unfavorable weather conditions at the approved landing sites off the coast of Florida. I'm sure the Axiom astronauts didn't mind, but it did disrupt NASA's crew rotation schedule since the Crew-4 Dragon capsule and the Ax1 Dragon capsule needed to use the same airlock to dock to the ISS (International Space Station. NASA stated they also needed about two days between the two missions to review data and make ready for the four astronauts of the Crew-4 mission.

Crew-4 means this is the fourth crew rotation mission NASA has done using SpaceX with their Commercial Crew Program. Commander for this mission is Kjell Lindgren, who has previously flown to space on the Expedition 44/45 mission to the ISS. This mission's pilot is Robert "Bob" Hines, making his first trip to space. Then there are the two mission specialists of Crew-4, Samantha Cristoforetti, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut who previously held the record for longest time by a female in space, and Jessica Watkins, who's making history on her first mission off Earth by becoming the first black female on a long duration mission inside our orbiting lab.

With lift off targeting 3:52 am E.T. on April 27th, it will take the Dragon capsule roughly sixteen hours to reach the space station, with arrive targeting 8:15 pm E.T. From there it will take a few hours to connect the hatches and make sure all systems are set and secure before a welcoming ceremony at 2:40 am E.T. April 28th. Already on-board ISS is the members of Crew-3, which launched last November and the Expedition 67 team of three Russian cosmonauts. Crew-3 will spend about five days showing Crew-4 the ropes and help them get acclimated to the experiments underway and life in microgravity before departing the station themselves and returning to our planet. From there Crew-4, and Expedition 67 will conduct a number of science and research investigations.

Some of the research being conducted will be in areas such as materials science, health technologies, and plant science to prepare for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. These will include experiments on the aging of immune systems, organic material concrete alternatives, and cardiorespiratory effects during and after long duration exposure to microgravity. Those are just a few of the two-hundred planned experiments and technology demonstrations that will take place over the course of this mission.

One of the research experiments launching alongside the crew inside Dragon is an Investigaton which seeks to restore vision to people who suffer from retinal degenerative diseases like retinitis pigmentosa, and macular degeneration. The Protein-Based Artificial Retina Manufacturing experiment will test the manufacturing of artificial retinas or retinal implants in microgravity. It is expected that their production in microgravity could be optimized. Also onboard with Crew-4 are the Smart-Tex shirts as part of a German Space Agency investigation called Wireless Compose-2. These shirts are fitted with sensors, wiring, and communication modules to wirelessly transmit data to a base station and will monitor cardiovascular activity like blood pressure and will provide details about heart contraction rate and valve opening/closing times, something normally accessible only through sonography or CT scans. It is these kinds of technologies needed for long duration space exploration missions and could lead to a more flexible implementation of this technology in health monitoring equipment on Earth.

Crew-4 marks the seventh human spaceflight for SpaceX and fourth operational crew launch for NASA since May of 2020. The company developed its Crew Dragon spacecraft to use with their Falcon 9 rocket with the 3 billion dollars awarded to the company from NASA's Commercial Crew Program, originally covering the costs of six operational NASA crewed missions. NASA also awarded Boeing 4.8 billion in contracts to develop their Starliner capsules, but that remains in development after their first uncrewed test flight back in 2019 failed to reach the space station. Currently Starliner is planning to launch May 19, 2022, for their OFT-2, or Orbital Flight Test 2 in hopes of things going as planned this time.

If you're in Florida, especially on the East coast and awake around 3:52 am E.T. tomorrow make sure you look towards Cape Canaveral, if the weather remains as clear as currently forecasted you should be able to see four human beings leave Earth behind as they reach for the stars.

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