Dr. Kjell Lindgren graduated from CSU with a master’s degree in cardiovascular physiology in 1996. Images courtesy of NASA
Editor’s note: NASA has postponed the Crew-4 launch until April 27 at the earliest. Follow @Commercial_Crew on Twitter for the latest updates on launch timing.
A Colorado State University alumnus is poised to make his second trip to the International Space Station on April 23, and this time he’s the mission commander.
Dr. Kjell Lindgren, who earned a master’s degree in cardiovascular physiology from CSU in 1996 before going to medical school at the University of Colorado, spent six months on the space station in 2015 as a flight engineer. While aboard, he called one of his CSU mentors, biomedical sciences Professor Emeritus C.W. Miller. Lindgren then visited campus the following spring to give a presentation about the mission and what it was like to conduct research in the orbiting laboratory, eat the first lettuce grown in space and play bagpipes on the space station.
Lindgren was a crewmate of astronaut Scott Kelly, who completed a yearlong mission in space and, with his twin brother on Earth, was part of NASA’s famous “Twins Study” that was co-led by CSU Professor Susan Bailey of the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences.
Commander of SpaceX Crew-4
In his second space mission, Lindgren will lead the four-person SpaceX Crew-4, which will spend several months on the space station before returning to Earth next fall. During a March 31 press conference and interview with SOURCE, Lindgren discussed the mission and what it will be like working with three Russian cosmonauts on the space station, considering that country’s recent invasion of Ukraine.
“We are not immune to the geopolitical situation right now,” he said. “These are very challenging times, but this is our job. … Thousands of people have invested so many hours in our training, and so we very much look forward to getting into orbit and working with our Russian colleagues, our friends up there, having a successful mission and getting everybody back home safely.
“Sergey (Korsakov) and Denis (Matveyev) are amazing space flyers,” he continued, referring to two of the cosmonauts. “We’ve had the opportunity to train with them, to have meals with them, and we very much look forward to working with them in orbit.”
When asked about how his CSU education contributed to his career as an astronaut, Lindgren said his master’s research on the effects that weightlessness has on cardiovascular physiology was invaluable. CSU’s new partnership with his medical school alma mater brings it all full circle, he said.
“CSU was such a remarkable experience,” he said. “I got to focus on something very specific and nerd out on my particular area of study. And to be able to experience what I described in my research was so cool.”
Scientific research in space
Lindgren said one of the scientific experiments the crew will conduct on this mission involves examining how weightlessness affects wound healing in a rodent model, “which brings me back to my CSU days as well, given CSU’s reputation as a veterinary training center.” He said the crew will also be growing edible plants, as he did on his last mission.
“And that is an amazing thing, to plant it, then to watch it grow to the size that it can be harvested, to recognize that this could be a really important part of space flight as a source of food and even as part of our environmental control system,” he said. “To see a little part of what science fiction has described for a long time … and then to have that as part of a meal was a lot of fun.”
Lindgren acknowledged that he has more responsibility and pressure serving as commander of this mission compared to his first trip to space, but he said his crewmates are fantastic. They include another astronaut with Colorado ties, Boulder native Jessica Watkins, who will be the first Black woman to live on the space station. She and American pilot Bob Hines are taking their first trip to the space station. It will be the second mission for European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy.
Lindgren said the group has had several opportunities to bond, including sea kayaking off the coast of Washington state.
“That team spirit, crew cohesion, is one of those things you can’t really train for,” he said, adding that it’s exciting to “serve on a team that inspires the next generation and shows what is possible when we work together in an international partnership.”
Lindgren said the mission patch, which is worn on the shoulder of their uniforms and features a dragonfly, was designed by his daughter.
“We wanted to reconnect with the earth with our patch,” he explained. “The dragonfly is a beautiful and agile flyer, and in many cultures is a sign of good fortune.”
Launching from Kennedy Space Center
Lindgren said blasting off from the Kennedy Space Center for the first time, where his friends and family can attend the launch, is especially meaningful to him since his last launch was from Kazakhstan.
“Space travel feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so to be able to do it a second time seems surreal,” he said, adding that his pre-flight traditions include launching model rockets on the beach with his family.
While Lindgren said there won’t be bagpipe playing this time around, there may be other surprises in store.
“What an amazing time to be part of NASA,” he concluded. “I feel like we won the lottery. We have programs that are figuring out how to get our astronauts to the moon, with Mars in our sights. There used to always be a running joke that Mars is 30 years away, and I have felt that horizon shrink.”