SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule Freedom Does Great on the First Astronaut Mission

The first mission of SpaceX’s newest crew capsule, the Dragon, couldn’t have gone any better. NASA’s Crew-4 astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was carried out by SpaceX’s Freedom spacecraft.

The mission ended Friday afternoon (Oct. 14) with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville, Florida. Representatives from NASA and SpaceX said that the return of Freedom to Earth and most of the rest of the mission went off without a hitch.

“From my perspective, watching the vehicle data those five and a half months was delightfully boring, while the crew got to do all the exciting work onboard ISS,” Sarah Walker, SpaceX’s director of Dragon mission management, said at a post-splashdown news conference on Friday evening.

“That’s exactly how we like it,” Walker added. “The Freedom vehicle performed beautifully the whole time and especially today on the day of its return.”

On April 27, astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti from NASA and the European Space Agency took off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. They were headed for the orbiting lab.

The Freedom got to the ISS the same day and its crew got to work right away. The Crew-4 astronauts finished “over 250 investigations in areas of human research technology demonstrations that we’ll need for exploration, as well as completing some of our low Earth orbit commercialization activities,” Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS program manager, said on Friday evening’s news conference.

Friday, the astronauts’ trip back to Earth was also notable and not just because it went smoothly. The Freedom landed less than five hours after it undocked from the ISS.

“This was actually the fastest return we’ve done on a crew mission — on any mission — to date,” Walker said.

SpaceX still has a mission on the ISS and it will for a while. On October 6, the Dragon Endurance, which also flew the Crew-3 mission, brought the four-person Crew-5 to the ISS.

Like Crew-5, Crew-6 will use a Dragon capsule that has been used before. Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said at Friday’s briefing that the next mission, which is set to take off next spring, will be on the spaceship Endeavour.

Endeavour flew SpaceX’s first mission with astronauts, Demo-2 to the ISS in 2020. It also flew Crew-2 and Axiom SpaceX’s Ax-1 mission. The Ax-1 mission, which took place in April of this year and lasted 17 days, was the first time that a private crew went to the space station.

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