SpaceX’s Crew 6 mission for NASA lifted off early Thursday morning (March 2) with a group of four astronauts en route to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS) in just over 24 hours.
A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 00:34 a.m. (0534 GMT) Thursday, launching SpaceX’s ninth manned flight to date and fourth for the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavor. Riding Endeavor is an international crew that will replace the four Crew 5 astronauts currently inhabiting the ISS.
The Falcon 9 rocket burst to life over the tranquil Florida Space Coast, lighting up the early morning sky on its way to deliver the crew to the orbital laboratory.
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About two minutes and 40 seconds after launch, the Falcon 9 first stage separated and began returning to Earth. The booster performed a series of engine burns and then landed on SpaceX’s drone ship 9.5 minutes after liftoff. Just read the instructions. It was the first launch and touchdown of this booster – a relative rarity for SpaceX, which is known for extensive rocket reuse.
Meanwhile, the upper stage of the rocket propelled the Endeavor further into orbit. A little over 12 minutes after launch, the capsule separated from the Falcon 9 upper stage and began free-flying.
“I just want to say that as a beginner pilot it was great fun. Thank you!” NASA astronaut Woody Hoburg, the Crew-6 pilot, told the SpaceX launch team shortly after the spacecraft separated.
Crew Dragon is “an absolute marvel of engineering and I just feel so fortunate to be able to fly this amazing machine,” added Hoburg.
Two of Hoburg’s crew members – United Arab Emirates (UAE) spaceman Sultan Al Neyadi and cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev – are also first-time space travelers. But the mission’s commander, NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, has visited the ISS three times in his career, though never for a stay as long as the group’s upcoming six-month rotation.
This is the ninth overall manned flight for SpaceX and the sixth operational mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew program. Crew Dragon Endeavor has now embarked on four manned missions for SpaceX. The other three are the demo 2 crew test flight in 2020, crew 2 in 2021 and the purely private Axiom Mission-1 in 2022.
Crew-6’s diverse international addition is the result of NASA’s crew-swap deal with the Russian space agency Roscosmos and a deal with Houston-based company Axiom Space, which worked with the UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center to create a to occupy a seat.
Crew-6 is scheduled to arrive at the space station at 1:17 a.m. EST (0617 GMT) on Friday (March 3) and have a brief overlap with members of Crew-5, who are scheduled to depart the ISS for about six days in. That Crew-6 quartet will remain aboard the space station for about six months, and then the Crew-7 mission will be launched to replace them.
Until then, Hoburg, Bowen, Al Neyadi, and Fedyaev will be busy tending to station maintenance and the ongoing experiment manifest.
NASA and SpaceX first attempted to launch Crew-6 early Monday morning (February 27), but the attempt failed about 2.5 minutes before launch due to a problem with the ignition fluid used to ignite Falcon’s first stage engines 9 contributes. This issue was fixed in time for launch on Thursday.
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