SpaceX Dragon 'Freedom' lands with Crew-4 astronauts from station
October 14, 2022
— Four astronauts are home from a nearly six-month stay on the International Space Station, having safely splashed down on board a SpaceX capsule off the coast of Florida.
NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins, together with Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA), returned to Earth on Friday (Oct. 14) on the Crew Dragon "Freedom." The Crew-4 crewmates descended under parachutes to a 4:55 p.m. EDT (2055 GMT) landing in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Jacksonville.
"Thank you for an incredible ride to orbit and an incredible ride home. Glad to be back," Lindgren radioed to SpaceX mission control after splashing down.
The SpaceX recovery ship "Megan," named after Crew-2 pilot Megan McArthur, was stationed nearby and was quickly alongside the Dragon to hoist it and the crew on board. After safing the vehicle, the hatch was opened and the astronauts were assisted out to undergo initial medical checks.
The four will be flown ashore by helicopter where a NASA jet is waiting to fly them to Ellington Airport in Houston. From there, Lindgren, Hines and Watkins will return to Johnson Space Center's crew quarters while Cristoforetti boards another plane to return to ESA in Cologne, Germany.
Lindgren, Hines, Watkins and Cristoforetti began their trip back to Earth earlier on Friday when they undocked Freedom from the space-facing port on the station's Harmony node at 12:05 p.m. EDT (1605 GMT). Their departure ended a 170-day stay at the orbiting laboratory, since they launched to the station on April 27.
"We've had an extraordinary experience. We've gotten a lot of great science done," Lindgren said during a brief crew and command changeover ceremony on Thursday. "We were mainly part of Expedition 67 [and] we were glad to be a part of this first part of Expedition 68."
For most of their stay, the four astronauts served as flight engineers on the station's crew. On Sept. 28, Cristoforetti was handed over command of Expedition 68, becoming the first European woman and first Italian to lead a space station crew. Before departing on Freedom, she transferred command to Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev.
"It's a very peculiar time here on space station these days. We have a fast and furious rotation of crews, so we just had a change of command ceremony a couple of weeks ago and we get to do it again," said Cristoforetti during Thursday's ceremony. "I just want to say how privileged it's been to serve as commander for this short period of time — short, but intense. It's been amazing."
Expedition 68 will continue through March 2023, with Prokopyev leading flight engineers Anna Kikina and Dmitry Petelin of Roscosmos, Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio of NASA and Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
During their time on orbit, Lindgren, Hines, Watkins and Cristoforetti participated in hundreds of science investigations and oversaw the arrival of Boeing's first CST-100 Starliner crew spacecraft to dock at the station. Cristoforetti also performed a 7 hour, 5 minute spacewalk to help prepare a new European robotic arm for use on the Russian segment of the outpost.
Crew-4 was the second spaceflight for Lindgren and Cristoforetti and the first for Hines and Watkins. Lindgren has now logged 312 days in orbit after two stays on the station. Cristoforetti has spent more than 370 days in space, ranking her second among all European astronauts for total time off the planet (after French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and his 396 days).
Cristoforetti is also the second most experienced woman astronaut, surpassed only by former NASA and current Axiom Space astronaut Peggy Whitson, who to date has logged 666 days on three missions.
Crew-4 was the first flight of the Dragon Freedom. SpaceX's fourth Crew Dragon to enter service, it completed 2,720 orbits around Earth. The flight was SpaceX's seventh crewed mission, sixth crewed launch to the International Space Station and fifth mission with NASA astronauts on board.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Freedom" splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. The capsule returned from the International Space Station with the Crew-4 astronauts after six months. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Before leaving for home, the Crew-4 astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti added their mission decals and signatures to the space station's walls. (NASA)
SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Freedom" seen moments after it undocked from the International Space Station's Harmony node. (NASA TV)
NASA's and SpaceX's Crew-4 mission patches. (NASA/SpaceX)
Crew-4 astronauts Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Samantha Cristoforetti are seen aboard SpaceX's Dragon "Freedom" after landing from the International Space Station on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)