A SpaceX rocket is carrying an international crew to 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 spacecraft neared a scheduled rendezvous with the orbiting probe. , NASA said.

The autonomously flying SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule was due to reach the space station shortly after 1:15 a.m. EST (0615 GMT) Friday, about 25 hours after liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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

The four-member crew is expected to spend six months aboard the ISS conducting more than 200 experiments and technical demonstrations, ranging from research on human cell growth in space to controlling combustibles in microgravity.

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Some of the research under NASA’s Artemis program that will pave the way for long-duration human missions to the moon and beyond is the successor to Apollo, the US space agency said.

The mission, dubbed 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 the CEO of electric car maker Tesla (TSLA). .O) and social media site Twitter.

Submarines and Engineers

The latest crew member is Stephen Bowen, 59, a former U.S. Navy submarine officer who has logged more than 40 days in orbit on three space shuttle flights and seven spacewalks. Fellow NASA astronaut Warren “Woody” Hoburg, 37, an electrical engineer, computer science specialist and commercial pilot, made his first space flight.

The Crew 6 mission also included UAE astronaut Sultan Al Nayadi, 41, the second person from his country to fly into space and the first person to launch from US soil as part of a long-duration space station crew.

Rounding out the four-person Crew 6 is Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedayov, 42, who, like Alneyadi, is an engineer and assigned as mission specialist for the spaceflight’s rookie crew.

Despite heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Fedayov is the second astronaut to fly on a US space shuttle under a renewed ride-sharing agreement signed by NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos in July.

The Crew 6 team is greeted at the space station by seven current ISS occupants – three NASA crew members, including Commander Nicole Aunabu Mann, the first Native American woman to fly in space, three Russians and a Japanese astronaut.

All seven are expected to complete their missions and depart the space station this month. Four will return to orbit in October on the SpaceX Dragon, and three will return home aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that flew empty to the ISS last week to replace a coolant leak when it arrived at the station in December.

Crew 6 launched 72 hours after an initial liftoff attempt was scrubbed in the final minutes of the early-morning countdown Monday due to an erratic flow of engine-ignition fluid. After replacing the clogged filter and flushing the lines, NASA said the system worked properly.

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The launch eventually unfolded without a single hiccup. But a faulty sensor was found in one of the 36 switches attached to a dozen grappling hooks used to attach the crew’s capsule’s nose to the ISS, but the system has enough redundancy so the nose cone had no problem docking or closing. That’s expected, NASA and SpaceX officials said.

The launch and rendezvous coincided with the four-year anniversary of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft’s unmanned “Demo-1” test flight in 2019.

(This story has been reprinted to correct for GMT change in paragraph 2)

Steve Corman reports in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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