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The Falcon rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center on its six-month mission shortly after midnight on Mar. 2. The launch was observed by close to 80 spectators from the United Arab Emirates. Astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi is only the second Emirati to fly to space.
“The @SpaceX #Crew6 mission lifted off aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour at 12:34am ET on Thursday and are due to dock to the station at 1:17am on Friday, according to a tweet by the International space station.
The launch was broadcast live in schools and offices across several Arab nations, including Dubai.
Also on board are NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, a retired Navy submariner, whose resume includes three space shuttle flights; Warren “Woody” Hoburg, a former research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and retired Russian Air Force pilot, Andrei Fedyaev, on his maiden voyage.
The lift-off marks four years since the capsule’s first orbital test flight.
“Welcome to orbit. If you enjoyed your ride, please don’t forget to give us five stars,” SpaceX Launch Control radioed.
A clogged filter in the engine’s ignition system caused the first launch attempt on Monday to be postponed at the last minute.
“It may have taken two times, but it was worth the trip,” Bowen said.
The launch was underlined by yet another spectacle. According to NASA’s space operations mission chief, Kathy Lueders, the launch came on top of a rare conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, which have appeared side by side all week, seeming to grow ever closer.
“We added a bright new star to that night sky tonight,” she told reporters.
The existing crew at the space station, which has been there since last October, will be relieved once the new crew arrives. It consists of U.S., Russian, and Japanese crewmembers.
some crew, two Russian and one American, are to remain at the station until September. Their stay was extended following a leak in their Soyuz capsule, a replacement for it arrived at the end of February.
Al-Neyadi expressed his gratitude in both Arabic and then English upon reaching orbit. “Launch was incredible. Amazing,” he said as reported by AP.
Al-Neyadi, a communications engineer, served as backup for the first Emirati astronaut in 2019, when Hazzaa al-Mansoori rode a Russian rocket to the space station for a weeklong visit. Al-Neyadi’s seat on the SpaceX rocket was funded by the oil-rich federation.
According to UAE’s minister for public education and advanced technology, Sarah al-Amiri, the long mission facilitates a new platform for science and scientific discovery for the country.
The director general of the UAE’s space center in Dubai, Salem al-Marri also commented on his country’s participation.
“We don’t want to just go to space and then not have much to do there or not have impact,” he said.
In addition, the Emirates already have a spacecraft orbiting Mars. A mini rover is also hitching a ride to the moon on a Japanese lander. NASA’s latest astronaut picks include two new UAE astronauts who are being trained in Houston.
The first Arab in space was Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman. He launched aboard shuttle Discovery in 1985. Two years later, Syrian astronaut Muhammed Faris was launched by Russia. Both were in space for about a week.
The Saudi government will be funding a short SpaceX flight for two of their astronauts, who will be joining Al-Neyadi this spring.
“It’s going to be really exciting, really interesting to have three Arabs in space at once. Our region is also thirsty to learn more,” bin Salman said last week.
The on-going tension between Russia and the United States has not affected cooperation between crew members. According to crew leader Bowen, the four work well as a team despite differences between their countries.
“It’s just tremendous to have the opportunity to fly with these guys,” Bowen said.
By Kos Temenes