SpaceX launches Crew-6, including first UAE long-duration member
March 2, 2023
— The International Space Station is about to receive its first long-duration crew member from a country that was not involved in its assembly.
United Arab Emirates (UAE) astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi, who is set to make the longest flight by an Arab in history, launched with Stephen Bowen and Warren "Woody" Hoburg of NASA and cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev of Russia's space corporation Roscosmos on Thursday (March 2). Flying as SpaceX's Crew-6 aboard the Dragon spacecraft "Endeavour," the four lifted off at 12:34 a.m. EST (0534 GMT) atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A in Florida.
Proceeding after clearing a clogged ground filter that led to a scrubbed launch attempt on Monday, the two-stage Falcon placed Endeavour into Earth orbit after a nine minute ascent. The flight marked the first time that a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft was re-flown for a fourth time, having previously been used for the Demo-2, Crew-2 and Axiom-1 missions.
Bowen, Hoburg, Fedyaev and AlNeyadi are scheduled to arrive at the station at about 12:45 a.m. EST (0545 GMT) on Friday, docking at the space-facing port on the Harmony node.
Update: Endeavour docked to Harmony at 1:40 a.m. EST (0640 GMT) after a delay needed to upload and test a software override for one of the Dragon's 12 docking hooks.
After equalizing the pressure between the Dragon and the station, the hatches will be opened and they will be greeted by the Expedition 68 crew, including commander Sergey Prokopyev of Roscosmos, his fellow Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Petelin and Anna Kikina, NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada and Frank Rubio and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata.
The 11 astronauts and cosmonauts will spend about a week living and working together before Mann, Cassada, Wakata and Kikina return to Earth on Dragon "Endurance" in early March. Bowen, Hoburg, Fedyaev and AlNeyadi are slated to remain on the station through August.
In that time, the members of Crew-6 will help conduct 222 science investigations, including testing an updated bioprinter capable of printing human cells and tissues that one day might be used to treat patients on Earth and studying heart muscle tissue to better understand heart disease and test new potential therapeutics. The crew will also conduct a fire safety investigation to learn how to efficiently extinguish a fire aboard a spacecraft and, during a spacewalk, will collect samples to study how bacterial and fungal populations can persist in the vacuum of space.
Bowen, Hoburg, Fedyaev and AlNeyadi are also expected to see the arrival of NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Suni Williams as the first crew to test fly Boeing's Starliner commercial crew spacecraft and separately, Axiom-2, the second private crew to visit the station, including former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, race car driver John Shoffner and the first woman and second man from Saudi Arabia to fly into space, Rayyanah Barnawi and Ali AlQarni.
Should Ax-2 arrive before Crew-6 departs as currently scheduled, then it will also mark the first time three Arab astronauts have been in space at the same time.
AlNeyadi, who is the fourth Arab astronaut and the second to come from the UAE, said that his earliest memory of humans flying in space was of the first flight of the first Saudi.
"When I was in primary school, I read about the first Arab astronaut, Prince Sultan Al Saud. I share the same name and it was really amazing to learn that someone from the same region flew to space. He flew in 1985 and he was an inspiration to me," the 41-year-old former IT engineer told collectSPACE.
AlNeyadi is on his first spaceflight, having previously served as backup to Hazza AlMansoori, the first UAE astronaut who made an 8-day trip to the space station in 2019.
Both Hoburg, 37, and Fedyaev, 42, are also first-time fliers. Hoburg was selected to join NASA in 2017 as a member of "The Turtles," the U.S. space agency's 22nd group of candidates. He previously worked as a product engineer at Boeing and served as an assistant professor at MIT.
Fedyaev has been waiting more than 10 years to launch into space, having been recruited by Roscosmos in 2012. His launch finally came just one day after his 42nd birthday on Sunday (Feb. 26). He earlier logged over 500 hours in flight as a pilot in the Russian Air Force.
Bowen, 59, is the only experienced astronaut on Crew-6, having spent more than 40 days in orbit on three prior space shuttle missions (STS-126, STS-132 and STS-133). A member of NASA's corps since 2000, Bowen is a former U.S. Navy submariner.
"I think the one advantage I have over my crewmates in that I know what it's like to be there [in space]. Other than that, it's all new to me as well and it's really exciting to learn a new vehicle and its operations. And now I have the opportunity to spend six months in space instead of just a couple of weeks," Bowen told collectSPACE in a pre-flight interview.
Crew-6 is SpaceX's sixth crew rotation flight for NASA, seventh crewed spaceflight in support of the U.S. space agency and ninth human spaceflight in the company's history.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the Crew Dragon "Endeavour" and Crew-6 astronauts from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, March 2, 2023. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
Crew-6 members Woody Hoburg, Steve Bowen (in front), Andrey Fedyaev and Sultan AlNeyadi walk out from the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
NASA and SpaceX mission insignia representing the Crew-6 launch to the International Space Station. (NASA/SpaceX)
Crew-6 astronauts aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Endeavour." From left: Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, NASA astronauts Woody Hoburg and Stephen Bowen and UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi. (SpaceX)