SpaceX launches international crew to ISS in scientific mission
Image credit: Reuters
The latest Nasa mission has taken four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), including a Russian cosmonaut, a United Arab Emirates astronaut and two Nasa crewmates.
Nasa's SpaceX Crew-6 mission lifted off at 12:34am EST (05:34am GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The mission has seen the arrival of the first person of Arab origin intending to stay for an extended time in the ISS, as part of a six-month-long science mission that will study microgravity. UAE's first-ever astronaut launched to orbit in 2019 aboard a Russian spacecraft.
The SpaceX launch vehicle consisted of a Falcon 9 rocket topped with an autonomously operated Crew Dragon capsule called Endeavour. Onboard were Nasa's retired Navy submariner Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, the United Arab Emirates' Sultan Al Neyadi, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
Fedyaev is the second cosmonaut to fly aboard an American spacecraft under a renewed ride-sharing deal between Nasa and Russia's Roscosmos, despite heightened international tensions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends," said Bowen, quoting Shakespeare's 'Henry V', just before liftoff. "Crew-6 is ready to launch."
The flight is the seventh under contract between Nasa and SpaceX, Elon Musk's space venture famous for its reusable rockets.
The Falcon 9 rocket's first stage successfully landed on the Just Read the Instructions drone ship stationed several hundred miles downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, the Dragon capsule is expected to dock with the ISS at 1:17 a.m. ET Friday.
The international team is scheduled to replace a US-Russian-Japanese crew that has been staying at the ISS since October, including commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, the first Native American woman to fly to space. The other station residents are two Russians and an American whose six-month stay was doubled after their Soyuz capsule suffered a leak and had to be replaced.
“Welcome to orbit,” SpaceX Launch Control radioed. “If you enjoyed your ride, please don’t forget to give us five stars.”
The launch was first attempted on Monday, but it was called off in the final minutes of countdown due to a clog in the flow of engine-ignition fluid. Nada said the problem was fixed by replacing a clogged filter and purging the system.
“It may have taken two times, but it was worth the trip,” Bowen said.
Al Neyadi, a communications engineer, served as back-up for the first Emirati astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, who rode a Russian rocket to the space station in 2019.
Once reaching orbit, the astronaut thanked everyone in Arabic and then English, describing the launch as "incredible" and "amazing". He previously had said he was taking lots of dates to share with his crewmates, especially during Ramadan, although he explained he is not required to observe fasting during the Muslim holy month since it could make him weak and jeopardise his mission.
The UAE’s minister for public education and advanced technology, Sarah al-Amiri, said the long mission “provides us a new venue for science and scientific discovery for the country”.
The Emirates already have a spacecraft orbiting Mars, and a mini rover is hitching a ride to the Moon on a Japanese lander. Two new UAE astronauts are training with Nasa’s latest astronaut picks in Houston.
The ISS has for many years symbolised international collaboration, and countries continue to work together on the project despite ongoing conflicts such as the war in Ukraine. The 100 billion dollar-plus complex, which is about as long as a football field, consists of two main sections, one run by Russia, the other by the US and other countries.
However, in recent years the continuation of the project had been increasingly put in question due to differences of opinion between nations, as well as the wear and tear of the station itself, which Russia claimed was endangering astronauts.
Russia has already announced its plans to walk away from the ISS and launch its own space station, similar to China’s Tiangong project, which is currently under construction and has recently welcomed a scientific lab.
Yuri Borisov, who took over as the head of Roscosmos in July, said the ISS has outlived its purpose and is “dangerous”.
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