The SpaceX rocket carries a multinational crew towards the space station

LOS ANGELES, March 2 (Reuters) – Two U.S. astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and a United Arab Emirates astronaut were safely en route to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday as their SpaceX ship neared a scheduled rendezvous with the lab in orbit around. , NASA said.

The autonomously flying SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule was scheduled to reach the space station and dock with the platform just after 1:15 a.m. EST (0515 GMT) Friday, nearly 25 hours after liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Control of the spacecraft will be handed over from SpaceX Mission Control near Los Angeles to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston when Crew Dragon is ready to dock with the ISS.

The four-man team is expected to spend six months aboard the ISS conducting more than 200 experiments and technology demonstrations, ranging from research on human cell growth in space to the control of combustible materials in microgravity.

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Some of the research will help pave the way for future long-duration human expeditions to the Moon and beyond under NASA’s Artemis program, its successor to Apollo, the US space agency said.

The mission, called Crew 6, is the sixth long-duration ISS crew SpaceX has flown for NASA since the private rocket venture founded by billionaire Elon Musk began sending American astronauts into orbit in May 2020. Musk is CEO of electric car maker Tesla (TSLA). .O) and the social media platform Twitter.


The latest crew was led by Stephen Bowen, 59, a one-time U.S. Navy submarine officer who has logged more than 40 days in orbit as a veteran of three space shuttle flights and seven spacewalks. With NASA astronaut Warren “Woody” Hoburg, 37, an electrical engineer, computer science expert and designated commercial pilot, made his first spacewalk.

The Crew 6 mission was also notable for its inclusion of 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-duration space station team.

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

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

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

The seven are expected to end their mission and leave the space station this month. Four will return in the SpaceX Dragon they rode into orbit in October, and three others will ride home in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that was flown empty to the ISS last week to replace one that created a coolant leak while docked to the station in December .

The Crew 6 launch came 72 hours after an initial liftoff attempt was scrubbed in the final minutes of the countdown early Monday due to an erratic flow of engine ignition fluid. NASA said the system worked perfectly after a clogged filter was replaced and the lines cleaned.

The launch eventually progressed with barely a hiccup. But a faulty sensor was also discovered on one of 36 switches connected to a dozen grappling hooks used to lock the nose of the crew capsule to the ISS, but there is enough redundancy in that system that no problems with docking or closing the nose cone are expected, NASA and SpaceX officials said.

The launch and rendezvous fell exactly on the four-year anniversary of SpaceX’s first unmanned “Demo-1” test flight of a Dragon spacecraft to the ISS and back in 2019.

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio

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