NASA and SpaceX launch the delayed Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station

NASA has successfully launched four astronauts on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS). The Crew-6 astronauts launched in a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle carried by a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:34AM ET on Thursday, March 2nd.

The crew will travel throughout the day and arrive at the ISS at around 1AM ET on Friday, where they will join the four members of Crew-5 plus three more crew members, for a total of 11 people on board the station. This won’t last for long, however, as the Crew-5 astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth in another Crew Dragon in a few days’ time.

“Congratulations to the NASA and SpaceX teams for another history-making mission to the International Space Station!” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “The Commercial Crew Program is proof American ingenuity and leadership in space benefits all of humanity – through groundbreaking science, innovative technology, and newfound partnership.”

The launch of the Crew-6 had been planned for Monday, February 27th, but was called off at the last minute due to an issue with the rocket propellant ignition fluid. The compound in question, called triethylaluminum triethylboron, or TEA-TEB, is needed to ignite the propellant used in Falcon 9 rockets, which includes both liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene, called RP-1.

After a review of the issue by NASA and SpaceX, NASA announced that the problem had been identified as a clogged filter in one of the ground systems. The filter was replaced and the lines cleaned, allowing the launch to go ahead this morning.

“I’m really proud of the team — that they worked through a tough issue in the last part of the count and made the right decision to step down, better understand the issue, and then fix it,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate, in a press conference following the launch. “We ended up with a beautiful launch.”

The Crew-6 mission consists of NASA’s Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev. The four will spend approximately six months at the station conducting scientific research, including work on human health and preventing the contamination of space environments. 

Astronaut Al Neyadi will be the second UAE citizen to visit the space station, following Hazza Al Mansouri, who took an eight-day trip to the station in 2019. His seat on this mission was secured through an agreement with private space company Axiom Space, who had the rights to a seat on a NASA Dragon mission after Axiom gave one of its seats on a Russian Soyuz vehicle to NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei.

In a briefing before the launch, Al Neyadi said that he was looking forward to waking up in space every morning and being able to look out of the cupola window: “It’s literally out of this world. You can see and scan the whole world in 90 minutes, which is amazing.”

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