SpaceX is launching the newest space station crew into orbit for NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX launched a crew of four early Thursday en route to the International Space Station into orbit, 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 flight came 72 hours after a first attempt at takeoff was scrubbed in the final minutes of the countdown early Monday due to a blockage in the flow of engine ignition fluid. According to NASA, replacing a clogged filter and flushing the system fixed the problem.

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About nine minutes after launch on Thursday, the rocket’s upper stage placed the Crew Dragon in preliminary orbit as it sped through space at more than 20 times the speed of sound. The reusable lower-stage Falcon booster, meanwhile, flew itself back to Earth and landed safely on a salvage ship dubbed Just Read the Instructions, adrift in the Atlantic.

Shortly after the capsule reached orbit, a SpaceX mission control manager was heard jokingly radioing the crew, “If you enjoyed your ride, please don’t forget to give us five stars.”

The crew commander, NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, radioed back, “We want to thank you for the great ride into orbit today.”

The trip 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.

The crew’s six-month scientific mission will include approximately 200 experiments and technology demonstrations, ranging from studying human cell growth in space to controlling combustible materials in microgravity.

The mission, dubbed Crew 6, is the sixth long-term ISS team NASA has flown aboard SpaceX since the private rocket company led by Musk – the billionaire CEO of electric carmaker Tesla (TSLA.O) – and social media Platform Twitter – was established with the launch of American astronauts began in may 2020 into orbit.

The newest ISS crew was led by 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 was also notable for including UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, 41, only the second person from his country to fly into space and the first to launch from US soil as part of a long-term Space Station team .

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 NASA crew members including Commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, the first Native American woman to fly into 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.

reporting by Joe Skipper in Cape Canaveral and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Edited by Will Dunham and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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