Two NASA astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and an Emerati — the first Arab assigned to long-duration spaceflight — flew atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Thursday morning, lighting up the night sky as they took off for the International Space Station.
With Crew-6 Commander Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg watching the cockpit computer screens, flanked by cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and United Arab Emirates aviator Sultan Alneyadi, the engines of the first stage of the aircraft ignited. Falcon 9 with a torrent of fire at 12:34 a.m. EST.
After throttling to a full 1.7 million pounds of thrust, the sleek rocket climbed smoothly away from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center atop a brilliant jet of flaming exhaust, and curved away to the northeast on a trajectory that matches the orbital path of the space station.
The skylight ascent came three days after a last-minute problem with the Falcon 9’s engine ignition system derailed a launch attempt on Monday two and a half minutes before launch.
Engineers replaced a suspect filter and the second time the countdown ticked to zero without a hitch. Nine minutes after reaching orbit, the Falcon 9 second stage released the Crew Dragon “Endeavour” to fly independently.
If all goes well, the spacecraft will perform a day-long automated rendezvous, approaching from behind and below before looping in front of the space station and then above it, moving in at 1:17 to dock at the space-facing port of the Harmony module
“Safe ride to the space station and we look forward to seeing you when you get home,” SpaceX said shortly after the crew reached orbit. “Thanks for flying SpaceX.”
“And SpaceX, Dragon copies everything, that was fantastic,” Bowen replied. “We really want to (thank you) for the amazing ride to track today, it was greatly appreciated. It may have taken twice but it was worth the trip.”
Bowen is the crew’s only space veteran. Hoburg summed up his first impressions by saying “That was a great ride. Thank you! It was an absolute marvel of engineering and I feel so lucky to be flying this amazing machine.”
Alneyadi added: “The launch was incredible, amazing. … Thank you NASA, thank you SpaceX for flying us to space.”
Bowen and company are welcomed aboard by Crew-5 Commander Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, and cosmonaut Anna Kikina, the first Russian to launch aboard a Crew Dragon.
We also welcome the Crew-6 pilots: Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio. They launched to the lab last September and originally planned to fly home in March.
But their Soyuz MS-22 ferry ship was crippled December 14 when a supposed micrometeoroid ruptured a coolant pipe. After an analysis, Russian engineers concluded that the spacecraft could not be safely reused due to the possibility of sensitive systems overheating.
Instead, there was a replacement Soyuz — MS-23 — launched last Thursday, with equipment and supplies instead of a crew. The spacecraft successfully docked at the station Saturday night, allowing Prokopyev and his crewmates a safe ride home.
But to get the crew’s rotation schedule back on track, the trio will have to spend another six months in space, returning home this fall after a full year in orbit.
The SpaceX Crew-5 and Crew-6 expeditions, on the other hand, are proceeding as originally planned, with Bowen and company replacing Mann, Cassada, Wakata and Kikina, who launched to the space station last October.
After briefing their replacements on the intricacies of station operations, Mann and her Crew-5 team will detach and return to Earth around March 9 to complete a 154-day mission. Bowen’s crew plans to stay up until the end of August.
Fedyaev is the second Russian cosmonaut named for a NASA-sponsored SpaceX Crew Dragon flight, and Alneyadi is the second UAE astronaut to fly in space. A compatriot, Hazzaa Al Mansoori, visited the space station as part of a previous Russian Soyuz visit. But Alneyadi is the first Arab to make a long-duration space flight.
Perhaps not widely known in the United States, the UAE has “a pretty interesting set of activities,” Alneyadi said in a pre-launch interview with CBS News. “We have satellites, we have a probe orbiting Mars, we have a lander heading for the lunar surface.
“My colleague, Hazzaa Al Mansoori, and two additional astronauts are training here (at the) Johnson Space Center for future missions. Being an astronaut myself for Crew 6, it’s a great privilege and a great responsibility.”
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t take a break every now and then to look out the window or have a little fun.
An expert in the Japanese martial art of jiu-jitsu, “I’ve got a kimono I’m going to wear on board and probably do some moves,” he said. He also plans to share one of his favorite foods with his crewmates.
“I like dates, I’m going to have dates. And hopefully I’m going to share this with everyone, especially during Ramadan. This is a request from the commander and I can’t say no to my commander!”
Bowen, Alneyadi and Fedyaev are all family men, with 13 children between them. Bowen has three, the eldest 26, Alneyadi has six, ages 12 to 3 months, and Fedyaev has four boys.
“They’re still quite young, so there are things they don’t really fully understand,” Fedyaev told CBS, speaking through an interpreter. “As for my wife, yes, she is a bit nervous. But I think my mother is the most nervous. I try to tell her not to be so nervous, that everything will be fine.”
Alneyadi said, “Being away from the family, from your kids, I think it’s going to be hard. Fortunately, we have the (ability) to keep that bond going: we have the ability to send emails, talk to them, talk, to have video calls with them.
“But I think they are the most important element in this. And I think they understand the importance of this mission for me personally and for the country. Without their support, without their help, I don’t think this would have happened.” possible.”
Bowen is a former Navy submariner and veteran of three space shuttle flights, while his crew members are space rookies. Bowen said that even though his three kids have grown up and gone out into the world on their own, “we had a family gathering” before accepting the Crew 6 assignment.
“I had the whole family together and we talked a lot about these issues, you know, the risks,” he said. “The most important thing to me is my family. And so every time I do something, they’re part of that decision-making process.”
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