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NASA's Crew-4 boards ISS following delayed launch

By Amy Thompson & Darryl Coote & Daniel Uria
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NASA's Crew-4 boards ISS following delayed launch
A Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft launch from Complex 39A at the the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on Wednesday. On board are NASA Astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins and ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., April 27 (UPI) -- Four astronauts arrived at the International Space Station in the SpaceX Dragon Freedom on Wednesday evening.

Crew-4 including NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti boarded the International Space Station at 9:20 p.m. EDT

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Crew-4 boarded the new Crew Dragon capsule launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the ISS at 3:52 a.m. EDT from launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and docked to the ISS complex at 7:37 p.m. EDT after a short time in orbit.

The launch, originally planned for April 19, comes a week late thanks to a series of weather delays that kept Axiom Space's crew of astronauts at the ISS longer than expected.

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Those astronauts -- part of the first private astronaut mission to fly to the orbital outpost -- splashed down on Monday in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla., setting the stage for Crew-4 to blast off on Wednesday.

Crew-4 arrived at Kennedy Space Center on April 18, and had spent the last week preparing to stay aboard ISS for the next six months.

The quartet is composed of two spaceflight veterans and two rookies who are scheduled to perform a bevy of science during their stay, ranging from life sciences to physical science and even some technology demonstrations.

"We're incredibly grateful for this opportunity to be a part of a larger team that includes Kennedy Space Center, all the space centers here in the U.S., our commercial partners, and our international partners," Kjell Lindgren, mission commander of Crew-4, told UPI.

"We are just the part of the team that gets to go up to the space station and conduct the science and research to improve life here on earth and to extend our presence in the solar system," Lindgren said.

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The flight is the second for both Lindgren and Cristoforetti.

After serving in the Italian Air Force, Cristoforetti joined the European Space Agency's astronaut corps in 2009, and flew to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz in 2014.

Lindgren was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2009 and launched to the ISS the following year, in 2015, also aboard a Russian Soyuz.

He has spent a total of 141 days in space and has two spacewalks under his belt, while Cristoforetti spent a total of 200 days in orbit.

"We feel prepared, we are confident in our skills, and we're excited to fly and to put those skills to work," Lindgren said. "A long-duration expedition on station with this group, I think, is going to be very fulfilling and incredibly fun."

Both Hines and Watkins were selected as astronauts by NASA in 2017, and will join their fellow classmates Raja Chari and Kayla Barron, who are already at the ISS.

Hines served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force for more than 21 years before joining the astronaut corps. He also served as a NASA research pilot.

Watkins is another NASA-alum who worked as a geologist on the Curiosity Rover's science team before donning NASA blues. She has a doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and will be the first African-American woman to fly to the ISS.

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"We are super, super pumped to get up there and get to have this once in a lifetime experience," said Watkins. "To be able to look down on our home, from our perch up on orbit, it's just going to be super awesome."

Lindgren and Watkins were both chosen among 18 astronauts for NASA's return to the moon, Artemis, which could be the group of humans that step on the lunar surface in the next decade.

Lindgren, Watkins, Hines and Cristoforetti together decided to name their shiny new capsule "Freedom."

Lindgren said Crew-4 named their new Dragon Crew capsule Freedom, because "it celebrates a fundamental human right, and the industry and innovation that emanate from the unencumbered human spirit."

It's also a nod to Alan Shepard and his capsule, called the Freedom 7, which was the first American spacecraft to reach space in 1961, Lindgren said.

The spacecraft sat atop a Falcon 9 rocket that launched for the fourth time, having previously carried the Crew-3 Dragon, as well as a cargo Dragon and a communications satellite for Turkey.

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