SpaceX just set a new record for its fastest Dragon astronaut journey to date.
Elon Musk’s spaceflight company launched four Crew-4 astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in less than 16 hours Wednesday (April 27), the shortest flight time since SpaceX began crewed flights in 2020.
“This is the fastest launch from dock 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 get from New York to Singapore, so it’s quite interesting.”
SpaceX launched Crew-4 astronauts on a new Crew Dragon capsule called Freedom and the Falcon 9 rocket at 3:52 a.m. EDT (0752 GMT) from Pad 39A at 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: Incredible launch photos of SpaceX 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 last Crew-3 flight for NASA took nearly a full day.
“I would say it’s kind of lucky how we get there,” said Jessica Jensen, vice president of operations and customer onboarding for SpaceX, adding that any delays could have altered the time of flight. “You can vary 10 to 20 hours of phasing just you know in a day or two. It’s not really that we’ve changed anything, it’s just the orbital mechanics of where the l ‘ISS and where it arrives 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, called Freedom, were Crew-4 mission commander Kjell Lindgren; pilot Bob Hines; Mission Specialist Jessica Watkins (all NASA); and European Space Agency Mission Specialist Samantha Cristoforetti.
The shorter SpaceX flight came just before a spacewalk (an extravehicular activity or EVA in NASA parlance) by two Russian cosmonauts outside the space station on Thursday, so get the crewing the Dragon was a bonus, NASA officials said.
“This short date has been pretty good for us,” Stitch said. “We can get to the station a little faster and we can make whatever preparations we need once docked to get the dragon ready for EVA.”
While the Crew-4 Dragon flight was SpaceX’s fastest flight to the station, it was not the fastest crewed flight ever. That title is still held by the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest time to the station with a journey of 3 hours and 3 minutes in October 2020.