SpaceX launched US, Russian, UAE astronauts to the space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Thursday, including the first person from the Arab world to ascend for a long-term stay.

The Falcon rocket bolted from the Kennedy Space Center shortly after midnight, lighting up the night sky as it headed for the East Coast.

Nearly 80 spectators from the United Arab Emirates watched from the launch site as astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi – the second Emirati to fly in space – blasted off on his six-month mission.

Half a world away in Dubai and elsewhere across the UAE, schools and offices plan to broadcast the launch live.

Also aboard the Dragon capsule destined for the space station on Friday: NASA’s Stephen Bowen, a retired Navy submariner who logged three space shuttle flights, and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, a former research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and novice in space, and Andrei Fedyaev, a space rookie who has retired from the Russian Air Force.

“Welcome to orbit,” SpaceX Launch Control radioed, announcing that liftoff took place four years to the day after the capsule’s first orbital test flight. “If you enjoyed your trip, please don’t forget to give us five stars.”

The first attempt to launch them was stopped on Monday at the last minute due to a clogged filter in the engine’s ignition system.

“It may have taken a couple of times, but it was worth the trip,” Bowen said.

They will replace a US-Russian-Japanese crew that has been there since October. The station’s other residents are two Russians and an American whose six-month stay was doubled, to September, after their Soyuz capsule leaked. A replacement Soyuz arrived last weekend.

Al-Neyadi, a communications engineer, served as backup to the first Emirati astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, who boarded a Russian rocket to the space station in 2019 for a week-long visit. The oil-rich federation paid for al-Neyadi’s seat on the SpaceX flight.

He thanked everyone in Arabic and then English once he reached orbit. “The launch was unbelievable. Amazing,” he said.

The UAE minister for public education and advanced technology, Sarah al-Amiri, said that the long mission “gives us a new place for discovering science and science for the country.”

“We don’t want to just go into space and then not do much there or have no impact,” said the director general of the UAE space center in Dubai, Salem al-Marri.

Emirates already has a spacecraft orbiting Mars, and a mini rover has landed on the moon on a Japanese lander. Two new UAE astronauts are training the latest astronauts selected by NASA in Houston.

Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab in space, launching aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1985. He was followed two years later by Syrian astronaut Muhammed Faris, who was launched in Russia. Both were in space for about a week.

Al-Neyadi was joined this spring by two Saudi astronauts going to the space station on a short private SpaceX flight paid for by their government.

“It will be really exciting, really interesting” to have three Arabs in space at once, he said last week. “Our region is also thirsty to learn more.”

He took several dates to share with his colleagues, especially during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that begins this month. Regarding observing Ramadan in orbit, he said that fasting is not obligatory because it would weaken him and endanger his mission.

Bowen, the crew leader, said the four jelled well as a team despite the differences between their countries. Even with the tension of the war in Ukraine, the US and Russia continue to work together on the space station and trade seats on board there.

“It’s amazing to have the opportunity to fly with these guys,” Bowen said.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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