More than 60 years ago, Mercury 7 astronaut Alan Shepard became the second person—and the first American—to fly into space. At the time, he named his spacecraft “Freedom.” To honor that iconic flight, SpaceX has named its new Crew-4 Dragon capsule “Freedom.”
NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, and Jessica Watkins, plus European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, will command the forthcoming mission, which is scheduled to carry Crew-4 to the International Space Station on April 19.
Lindgren, the mission’s commander, first revealed the capsule’s name in a tweet on Wednesday:
The bullet-shaped Dragon can carry up to seven people, and it is the first private spacecraft to take humans to the International Space Station (ISS); its first flight to the ISS took place in 2020. A little more than half the length of a school bus, Dragon is the only spacecraft currently able to return large amounts of cargo to Earth with the help of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket, which boosts it into space. The base of the Dragon capsule, itself, includes thrusters for the fine orbital maneuvering needed to lock it into place with the orbiting station.
Freedom will be SpaceX’s fifth crewed spaceflight for NASA, and the fourth Dragon craft built. The company also flew the crewed test flight Demo-2 and three previous operational crewed missions to the ISS. To date, Dragon craft have made more than 20 flights to the station.
You can soon visit the original Mercury-Redstone 3 Freedom 7 capsule that Shepard folded into for his solo, suborbital flight. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum plans to display the capsule later this year in its “Destination Moon” exhibit. SpaceX is collaborating with NASA and the ESA to return human beings to the moon in the coming years, in order to prepare for an eventual mission to Mars.