SpaceX’s new Dragon spaceship named ‘Freedom’

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, pilot Bob Hines, commander Kjell Lindgren, and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti pose with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s fourth human-rated Crew Dragon spacecraft has been named “Freedom” by the first team of astronauts who will ride it into orbit next month.

“FREEDOM!! Crew-4 will fly to the International Space Station in a new Dragon capsule named “Freedom,” tweeted NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, commander of the Crew-4 mission set for launch to the International Space Station on April 19.” The name celebrates a fundamental human right, and the industry and innovation that emanate from the unencumbered human spirit.”

The first crews who have flown on each of SpaceX’s Dragon spaceships have named the vehicles.

First, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken named Crew Dragon Endeavour — after NASA’s space shuttle — in a live video downlink from orbit hours after launching in May 2020 on the first crew flight to orbit Earth in nearly nine years. The second human-rated Dragon was named Resilience, and the third was designated Endurance.

Now Crew Dragon Freedom is joining SpaceX’s fleet of reusable spaceships.

“Through the Commercial Crew Program, NASA and SpaceX have restored a national capability and we honor the ingenuity and hard work of those involved,” Lindgren tweeted. “Alan Shepard flew on Freedom 7 at the dawn of human spaceflight. We are honored to bring Freedom to a new generation!”

The Crew Dragon Freedom spacecraft, known by the serial number “Capsule 212,” is at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, where SpaceX technicians are readying the ship for launch next month on planned five-month expedition to the International Space Station.

Lindgren, 49, will command the Crew-4 mission, SpaceX’s fourth operational crew rotation flight to the space station under contract to NASA.

It will be the seventh SpaceX mission to carry a crew into orbit, including a Dragon test flight in 2020, the three ISS crew rotation missions, the all-private Inspiration4 mission last year, and the planned launch of another all-commercial astronaut flight in early April.

Lindgren, a veteran of one previous mission to the space station, will be joined on the Crew-4 mission by two NASA rookies — pilot Bob Hines and mission specialist Jessica Watkins — and Italian-born European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

They will replace four astronauts who have been at the space station since launching in November on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft. Crew Dragon Endeavour will launch on its third mission next month on Axiom Mission 1, carrying four private citizens on a 10-day flight to the station.

In preparation for launch as soon as April 3, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft is being filled with propellants for its in-space maneuvering thrusters this weekend. Crew Dragon Freedom will soon go through the same process for its April 19 launch.

“It’s a pretty exciting time for us, seeing two Dragon vehicles in final processing, both getting ready to go fly within just several days of each other,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability.

Sarah Walker, SpaceX’s director of Dragon mission management, said last year that a fleet of four Crew Dragons will should be sufficient to support the company’s growing manifest of crew missions for NASA and private customers.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.