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SpaceX's Crew-4 astronaut mission for NASA cleared for April 23 launch

Crew-4 commander Kjell Lindgren (at right) with pilot Bob Hines, flanked by crewmates Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti and backdropped by their Crew Dragon "Freedom."
Crew-4 commander Kjell Lindgren (at right) with pilot Bob Hines, flanked by crewmates Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti and backdropped by their Crew Dragon "Freedom." (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX's Crew-4 astronaut mission to the International Space Station is 'go' for launch next weekend.

NASA and SpaceX teams conducted a seven-hour flight readiness review for Crew-4 today (April 15) at the agency's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. They found no big or worrisome issues, so Crew-4 remains on track to launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from KSC's Pad 39A at 5:26 a.m. EDT (0926 GTM) on April 23.

"Right now, everything looks good, and we have a clear path forward to that April 23 launch opportunity," Jared Metter, director of flight reliability at SpaceX, said during a call with reporters this afternoon.

Related: SpaceX's Crew-4 Dragon capsule gets a name: Freedom

The flight readiness review was "very, very clean," NASA human spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders said during today's call. The teams identified just a few minor items that should get resolved within the next 24 to 36 hours or so, she added.

For example, NASA and SpaceX still want to finish up some work on the heat shield of Crew-4's Dragon capsule "Freedom," a new vehicle that has never flown before, said Steve Stich, manager of the agency's Commercial Crew Program.

The teams also want to make sure they've got redundancy in the system that provides gaseous nitrogen to launch vehicles at KSC, Stich added. That desire may have been colored by the experience of NASA's Artemis 1 team, which had some trouble securing the gas (opens in new tab) from a commercial vendor during the moon mission's crucial "wet dress rehearsal" at KSC's Pad 39B earlier this month.

Crew-4 will send NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins and the European Space Agency's Samantha Cristoforetti to the International Space Station for a lengthy stay.

The mission will launch during a very busy time for human spaceflight. As noted above, NASA has been conducting the Artemis 1 wet dress rehearsal — a practice run of important prelaunch procedures, including rocket fueling — at KSC. 

The wet dress hasn't gone entirely according to plan; the Artemis 1 team has made three attempts to fuel the core stage of the mission's huge Space Launch System rocket but had to call all of them off to address various technical issues. NASA is currently weighing its next steps with the Artemis 1 wet dress, which could resume as early as next week.

SpaceX launched the private Ax-1 mission to the space station on April 8. The four Ax-1 crewmembers are scheduled to depart the orbiting lab on April 19 and splash down on Earth a day later. And SpaceX's Crew-3 mission, which has been living on the station since November, is slated to come home soon as well.

NASA and SpaceX have not yet set an official Crew-3 splashdown date, but they're targeting late April.

"We'll work the specific landing date pending, you know, a good launch and then good weather for landing," Joel Montalbano, NASA's ISS program manager, said during today's call. 

"But we're planning a five-day handover between the two" missions, he added.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out Ther (opens in new tab)e (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).  

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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.