Meteorologists with the U.S. Space Force’s Space Launch Delta 30 Weather Squadron are predicting a 100% chance of favorable weather conditions for launch, with no primary weather concerns.
NASA, the French space agency Centre National d’Études Spatiales, and SpaceX now are targeting 3:46 a.m. PST on Friday, Dec. 16, for launch of the Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission.
After SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket went vertical on the pad at Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, teams identified moisture in two Merlin engines on the rocket’s first stage booster. Teams completed inspections of the rocket’s engines today, but will use the additional time to complete data reviews and analysis before a launch attempt.
The SWOT satellite is healthy, and the weather forecast remains favorable for liftoff on Friday morning. Live launch coverage will begin at 6 a.m. EST (3 a.m. PST) on Friday on NASA Television, YouTube, Twitter, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts aboard the Dragon spacecraft safely splashed down Friday off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, completing the agency’s fourth commercial crew mission to the International Space Station. The international crew of four spent 170 days in orbit.
NASA astronauts Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and Jessica Watkins and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti returned to Earth in a parachute-assisted splashdown at 4:55 p.m. EDT. Teams aboard SpaceX recovery vessels retrieved the spacecraft and astronauts. After returning to shore, all astronauts will fly to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Cristoforetti then will board a plane to Europe.
“Welcome home Crew-4! This international crew has spent nearly six months on the International Space Station conducting science for the benefit of all. Their work aboard the orbiting laboratory will help prepare future explorers for future space missions,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Working and living on the space station is the opportunity of a lifetime, but it also requires these explorers to make sacrifices, especially time away from loved ones. Kjell, Bob, Jessica and Samantha, thank you for your contributions over the past six months to science, innovation, and discovery!”
The Crew-4 mission launched at 3:52 a.m. EDT April 27 on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Less than 16 hours later, Dragon docked to the Harmony module’s space-facing port. The astronauts undocked from the same port at 12:05 p.m. Friday, to begin the trip home.
Hines, Lindgren, Watkins, and Cristoforetti traveled 72,168,935 miles during their mission, spent 170 days aboard the space station, and completed 2,720 orbits around Earth. Lindgren has logged 311 days in space over his two flights, and with the completion of their flight today, Cristoforetti has logged 369 days in space on her two flights, making her second on the all-time list for most days in space by a woman. The Crew-4 mission was the first spaceflight for Hines and Watkins.
Throughout their mission, the Crew-4 astronauts contributed to a host of science and maintenance activities and technology demonstrations. Cristoforetti completed two spacewalks with Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev to perform station maintenance and upgrades.
Crew-4 continued work on investigations documenting how improvements to the space diet affect immune function and the gut microbiome, determining the effect of fuel temperature on the flammability of a material, exploring possible adverse effects on astronaut hearing from equipment noise and microgravity, and studying whether additives increase or decrease the stability of emulsions. The astronauts also investigated microgravity-induced changes in the human immune system similar to aging, tested a novel water-reclamation membrane, and examined a concrete alternative made with a material found in lunar and Martian dust.
The spacecraft, named Freedom by Crew-4, will return to Florida for inspection and processing at SpaceX’s Dragon Lair, where teams will examine the spacecraft’s data and performance throughout the flight.
The Crew-4 flight is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and its return to Earth follows on the heels of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 launch, which docked to the station Oct. 6, beginning another science expedition.
The goal of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station. This already has provided additional research time and has increased the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s microgravity testbed for exploration, including helping NASA prepare for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
Learn more about NASA’s Commercial Crew program at:
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The integrated NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX teams have agreed on a plan for the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew to undock from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday, April 23, for a splashdown off the coast of Florida about 1:46 p.m. Sunday, April 24. The decision was made based on the best weather for splashdown of the first private astronaut mission to visit the International Space Station and the return trajectory required to bring the crew and the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft back to Earth safely.
NASA will provide live coverage of departure activities beginning at 6:15 p.m. Saturday, April 23, with hatch closure targeted for 6:30 p.m. Coverage will resume at 8:15 p.m. for the undocking. Teams will continue to monitor weather at the splashdown sites prior to undocking to ensure conditions are acceptable for a safe recovery of the Ax-1 astronauts and Dragon spacecraft.
NASA and Axiom mission planning prepared for the possibility of additional time on station for the private astronauts, and there are sufficient provisions for all 11 crew members aboard the space station. The Ax-1 crew continues to work through previously planned mission activities. The Ax-1 crew and Dragon spacecraft remain healthy.
The departure of Dragon Endeavour from the space station will clear the docking port for the arrival of Dragon Freedom and NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts. The earliest potential launch opportunity for the Crew-4 mission is 4:15 a.m. Tuesday, April 26, with additional opportunities Wednesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 28. These launch opportunities are undergoing a more detailed program review to ensure they align with integrated operational timelines. The teams want to provide a two-day gap after Ax-1 return for data reviews from splashdown and to prepare for the Crew-4 launch, including the staging of recovery assets.
The Crew-4 astronauts spent last night at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida rehearsing the countdown to their launch inside the SpaceX Dragon Freedom, the company’s newest crew ship. Overnight, Crew-4 Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Robert Hines with Mission Specialists Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti, put on their pressure suits and entered their vehicle conducting a successful dry dress rehearsal. The Falcon 9 rocket, with the Freedom perched atop, stands at Launch Complex 39A.
Expedition 67 crewmates Raja Chari and Tom Marshburn, who are also the SpaceX Crew-3 commander and pilot respectively, spent a little time on Wednesday with their upcoming departure activities. The pair, along with Kayla Barron of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA, will wait for the arrival of their Crew-4 replacements before returning to Earth a few days later inside the Dragon Endurance vehicle. The four astronauts had a light-duty day on Wednesday scheduling in some housecleaning tasks.
Over in the Russian segment of the station, cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev wrapped up their post-spacewalk activities today stowing their tools and discussing the excursion with specialists on the ground. The duo kicked off a series of spacewalks on April 18 to configure the European robotic arm for operations on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. Roscosmos Flight Engineer Sergey Korsakov started his day with electronics and communications maintenance before studying future spacecraft and robotic piloting techniques in the afternoon.