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 12:34 a.m. ET on Thursday, March 2.
The crew will travel throughout the day, arriving at the ISS around 1 a.m. ET on Friday, where they will join the four members of Crew-5 plus three more crew members, for a total of 11 people aboard the station. This won’t last long though, as the Crew-5 astronauts will return to Earth in another Crew Dragon in a few days.
“Congratulations to the NASA and SpaceX teams on another historic mission to the International Space Station!” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “The Commercial Crew Program is proof that American ingenuity and leadership in space benefits all of humanity – through breakthrough science, innovative technology and renewed collaboration.”
The Crew-6 launch was scheduled for Monday, February 27, but was called off at the last minute due to a problem 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 contain both liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene called RP-1.
After an assessment of the problem by NASA and SpaceX, NASA announced that the problem had been identified as a clogged filter in one of the ground systems. The filter has been replaced and the pipes cleaned, allowing the launch to continue this morning.
“I am really proud of the team – that they solved a difficult problem in the last part of the count and made the right decision to step down, understand the problem better and then solve it,” says Kathy Lueders , NASA Administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate, at a post-launch press conference. “We ended up with a great 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 about six months on the station conducting scientific research, including on human health and the prevention of contamination of space environments.
Astronaut Al Neyadi will be the second UAE citizen to visit the space station, following Hazza Al Mansouri, who made an eight-day trip to the station in 2019. His place on this mission was secured by an agreement with private space company Axiom Space, which was entitled 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 Hey.
In a pre-launch briefing, Al Neyadi said he looked forward to waking up in space every morning and being able to look out the dome window: “It is literally out of this world. You can see and scan the whole world in 90 minutes, which is great.”