Latest crew welcomed

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) — Four astronauts, three from NASA and one from the European Space Agency, arrived at the International Space Station on April 27 and docked their SpaceX capsule, just two days after the last crew to depart the orbiting outpost returned to Earth.

Rendezvous of the Crew Dragon capsule with the station less than 16 hours after launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., marked one of the fastest flights by Elon Musk’s SpaceX to the ISS from liftoff to docking, NASA webcast commentators said.

The fully automated docking took place at about 7:37 p.m. while the Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Freedom, and the space station were flying about 420 kilometers above the central Pacific Ocean, according to NASA.

The Freedom crew consists of three American NASA astronauts — flight commander Kjell Lindgren, 49; mission pilot Bob Hines, 47; and mission specialist Jessica Watkins, 33 — as well as Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, 45, of the European Space Agency.

After docking ahead of schedule to the station’s Harmony module, crew members spent two hours conducting standard leak checks and pressurizing the chamber between the capsule and the ISS before opening the entry hatches.

A live NASA video feed showed the smiling new arrivals floating headfirst through the padded passageway one by one into the station. They were greeted with hugs and handshakes by the four-member team they will be replacing — three Americans and a German ESA crewmate.

Three Russian cosmonauts currently sharing the station but preparing for a spacewalk on April 28 were not present for the welcome.

The four latest astronauts, designated Crew 4, are the fourth full-fledged ISS crew NASA has launched aboard a SpaceX vehicle since the California-based rocket company began flying U.S. space agency astronauts in 2020.