SpaceX launches latest space station crew to orbit for NASA

By Joe Skipper and Steve Gorman

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX launched a crew of four on a trip to the International Space Station early Thursday, with a Russian cosmonaut and an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates joining two NASA crewmates on the flight.

The SpaceX launch vehicle, consisting of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying an autonomously powered Crew Dragon capsule called Endeavor, lifted off at 00:34 EST (0534 GMT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A live webcast from NASA showed the 25-story spacecraft rising from the launch tower as its nine Merlin engines burst to life in billowing clouds of steam and a reddish ball of fire that lit the predawn sky.

The launch should accelerate the Crew Dragon to an orbital speed of 17,500 miles per hour (28,164 km/h), more than 22 times the speed of sound.

The flight came 72 hours after a first attempt at takeoff was scrubbed in the closing minutes of the countdown early Monday due to an obstruction in the flow of engine ignition fluid. According to NASA, replacing a clogged filter and flushing the system fixed the problem.

The journey to the International Space Station (ISS), a laboratory orbiting about 420 km above Earth, was expected to take almost 25 hours, with the meeting scheduled around 1:15 a.m. EST (0615 GMT) on Friday as the crew begins a six-month science mission in microgravity.

The mission, dubbed Crew 6, is the sixth long-term ISS team NASA has flown aboard SpaceX since the private rocket company founded by Musk — the billionaire CEO of electric car maker Tesla and social media platform Twitter — in the began sending American astronauts into orbit in May 2020.

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The newest ISS crew was led by Mission Commander Stephen Bowen, 59, a former US Navy submarine officer who has spent more than 40 days in orbit as a veteran of three Space Shuttle flights and seven spacewalks.

NASA astronaut Warren “Woody” Hoburg, 37, an engineer and commercial aviator billed as the Crew 6 pilot, made his first spaceflight.

The Crew 6 mission is also notable for the inclusion of UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, 41, who is only the second person from his country to fly into space and the first to fly from US soil as part of a long-term space station team launched. The UAE’s first-ever astronaut was launched into orbit in 2019 aboard a Russian spacecraft.

Rounding out Crew 6 of four was Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, 42, who like Alneyadi is an engineer and space rookie designated as the team’s mission specialist.

Fedyaev is the second cosmonaut to fly aboard an American spacecraft under a renewed rideshare deal signed by NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency in July, despite heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Crew 6 team is welcomed aboard the space station by seven current ISS occupants – three US NASA crew members including Commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, the first Native American woman to fly in space, along with three Russians and a Japanese astronaut .

The ISS, about the length of a football field, has been operated continuously for more than two decades by a US-Russian-led consortium including Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.

The Crew 6 mission follows two recent mishaps where a Russian spacecraft docked with the orbiting lab caused coolant leaks that appeared to cause micrometeoroids, tiny grains of space rock that streaked through space and hit the spacecraft at high speed.

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One of the Russian vehicles affected was a Soyuz crew capsule that had carried two cosmonauts and an astronaut to the space station in September for a six-month mission that is now scheduled to end in March. An empty spare Soyuz to take them home arrived at the station on Saturday.

(Reporting by Joe Skipper in Cape Canaveral and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Will Dunham)


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