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SpaceX just flew its fastest Dragon astronaut trip to the space station ever

SpaceX's Crew Dragon Freedom is seen docked at the space-facing port on the International Space Station's Harmony module after a smooth arrival with four Crew-4 astronauts aboard on April 27, 2022.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon Freedom is seen docked at the space-facing port on the International Space Station's Harmony module after a smooth arrival with four Crew-4 astronauts aboard on April 27, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX just set a new record for its fastest Dragon astronaut trip yet. 

Elon Musk's spaceflight company launched four Crew-4 astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in less than 16 hours on Wednesday (April 27), the shortest flight time since SpaceX began crewed flights in 2020. 

"This is the fastest launch to dock that we've done," Steve Stitch, NASA's Commercial Crew Program manager, told reporters after the launch early Wednesday. "It's about the same time it takes to go from New York to Singapore, so it's kind of interesting." 

SpaceX launched the Crew-4 astronauts on a new Crew Dragon capsule called Freedom and Falcon 9 rocket at 3:52 a.m. EDT (0752 GMT) from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The astronauts arrived at the space station later that night, docking at 7:37 p.m. EDT (2337 GMT). Total flight time: 15 hours and 45 minutes.

Related: Amazing launch photos of SpaceX's Crew-4 astronauts

For comparison, SpaceX's first crewed flight for NASA, the Demo-2 mission in May 2020, took about 19 hours to reach the station, while its latest Crew-3 flight for NASA took nearly a full day. 

"I'd say it's sort of a little bit of luck as to how we would up in this," said Jessica Jensen, SpaceX's vice president of customer operations and integration, adding that any delay could have changed the flight time. "You can vary by 10 to 20 hours of phasing just you know in a day or two. It's not really that we changed anything, it's just the orbital mechanics of where the ISS is and where it's coming over Florida."

The Crew-4 mission launched three NASA astronauts and one European Space Agency astronaut to the space station to kick off a six-month mission. Aboard the Crew Dragon Freedom were Crew-4 commander Kjell Lindgren; pilot Bob Hines; mission specialist Jessica Watkins (all of NASA); and mission specialist Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency.

The shorter SpaceX flight came just ahead of a spacewalk (an Extravehicular Activity or EVA in NASA parlance) by two Russian cosmonauts outside the space station on Thursday, so getting the Dragon crew docked and settled in swiftly was a bonus, NASA officials said. 

"This short rendezvous was pretty favorable for us," Stitch said. "We can get to station a little quicker and we can do the preparations we need once we dock to get dragon ready for the EVA."

While Crew-4 Dragon flight was SpaceX's fastest flight to the station, it wasn't the fastest crewed flight ever. That title is still held by Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, which holds the Guinness World Record (opens in new tab) for the fastest time to the station with a 3-hour, 3-minute trip in October 2020.

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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.