SpaceX launches US, Russia, UAE astronauts to space station

Four astronauts have been sent to the International Space Station by Elon Musk’s space company.

SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, has launched a group of four astronauts to the International Space Station on behalf of NASA. Among them is the first person from the Arab world to embark on an extended stay lasting several months

The Falcon rocket launched from Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, just after midnight on Thursday. As it ascended the East Coast, it lit up the night sky.

The journey to the International Space Station (ISS), which is a laboratory orbiting 420km (250 miles) above Earth, was projected to take almost 25 hours. Rendezvous was planned for approximately 06:15 GMT on Friday.

Astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi, the second Emirati to embark on a space mission, departed on his six-month assignment, and nearly 80 onlookers from the United Arab Emirates observed from the launch site.

Schools and offices throughout the UAE, including in Dubai, intended to live-stream the launch as it happened, despite the distance.

The Dragon capsule, which is due to reach the space station on Friday, is carrying three additional astronauts: NASA’s Stephen Bowen, a retired Navy submariner who completed three space shuttle missions, Warren “Woody” Hoburg, a former MIT research scientist who is new to space travel, and Andrey Fedyaev, a first-time space traveler who has retired from the Russian Air Force.

The initial attempt to launch the four astronauts was scrapped on Monday at the last moment due to a blocked filter in the engine ignition system.

They will replace a US-Russian-Japanese crew that has been on the space station since October. Two Russians and an American, whose six-month stay was extended until September after their Soyuz capsule leaked, are among the other station occupants. Last weekend, a replacement Soyuz arrived.

Al-Neyadi, a communication engineer, was a backup for the first Emirati astronaut, Hazza al-Mansoori, who traveled to the space station in 2019 for a week-long stay on a Russian rocket. The UAE paid for Al-Neyadi’s seat on the SpaceX flight.

According to the UAE’s Minister for Public Education and Advanced Technology, Sarah al-Amiri, the extended mission “provides us a new venue for science and scientific discovery for the country.”

The director general of the UAE’s space centre in Dubai, Salem al-Marri, said, “We don’t want to just go to space and then not have much to do there or not have an impact.”

Two new UAE astronauts are training with NASA’s most recent astronaut selections in Houston, and the UAE already has a spacecraft in orbit around Mars, with a mini-rover hitching a ride to the moon on a Japanese lander.

In 1985, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Arab to go to space when he launched aboard the shuttle Discovery. Syrian astronaut Muhammed Faris followed two years later, launched by Russia. Both spent about a week in space.

Two Saudi astronauts will join Al-Neyadi on the space station this spring on a short private SpaceX flight funded by their government.

Al-Neyadi expressed excitement over the prospect of having three Arabs in space at the same time, saying last week, “It’s going to be really exciting, really interesting. Our region is also thirsty to learn more.”

During his six-month mission, Al-Neyadi plans to share lots of dates with his crewmates, especially during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month which begins this month. He stated that fasting is not mandatory in orbit, as it could weaken him and put his mission in jeopardy.

Despite the differences between their countries, Bowen, the leader of the crew, stated that the four astronauts have bonded well as a team. The US and Russia have continued to collaborate on the space station and exchange seats on rides there, even with the tension over the war in Ukraine.

Bowen said, “It’s tremendous to have the opportunity to fly with these guys.”

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