SpaceX launched another crew to the International Space Station (ISS) this week. The four passengers blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 3:52 a.m. on Wednesday and docked around 7:37 p.m. ET at the ISS.
One of the astronauts aboard will soon break a U.S. record. Jessica Watkins will live and work at the International Space Station for the next six months, becoming the first African-American woman to spend a prolonged period aboard the station.
“This is certainly an important milestone, I think, both for our [space] agency and for the country,” Watkins said during a press conference last month. “I think it really is just a tribute to the legacy of the black women astronauts that have come before me as well as to the exciting future ahead.”
Jessica Watkins has been on the path to space since the start of her career. After working as a NASA intern, she worked on jet propulsion programs and the Mars Rover.
Watkins was joined on SpaceX’s Crew-4 by Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
The four-astronaut crew will conduct 200 experiments and technological demonstrations during their time on the ISS.
According to NASA, “experiments will include studies on the aging of immune systems, organic material concrete alternatives, and cardiorespiratory effects during and after long-duration microgravity exposure.”
Crew-4 was the fourth SpaceX flight to carry astronauts to the ISS for NASA.
The SpaceX program has a $2.6 billion contract with NASA to provide passage into orbit and is a pivotal partner of NASA’s space program.
However, Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is also available for private missions, such as the Axiom 1 flight, which transported four private citizens to the ISS earlier this month.
SpaceX has designed its Crew Dragon capsules to be reusable for numerous trips to space, but its most recent launch, the Crew-4 Dragon capsule, which the crew named “Freedom,” is brand new.
Crew-4’s takeoff is also significant for SpaceX because it marks the second time the company has launched a team from the same pad in less than three weeks. Before Crew-4, Axiom 1 (Ax-1) launched on April 8 to the International Space Station and splashed down off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, on Monday afternoon.