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Friday, June 2, 2023

SpaceX sends American, Russian, UAE astronauts to space station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX launched four astronauts, including the first from the Arab world, to the International Space Station for NASA on Thursday.

Shortly after midnight, a Falcon rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center, lighting up the East Coast night sky.

Nearly 80 spectators from the United Arab Emirates were at the launch site to watch astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi – the second Emirati to fly into space – lift off on his six-month mission.

Half a world away, in Dubai and elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates, schools and offices plan to broadcast the launch live.

Also aboard the Dragon capsule, which will arrive at the space station on Friday: NASA’s Stephen Bowen, a retired Navy submariner with three space shuttle flights, and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, an MIT A former research scientist and space novice at the academy, and Andrei Fedyaev, a space rookie retired from the Russian Air Force.

The first attempt to launch them was called off at the last minute on Monday because of a clogged filter in the engine’s ignition system.

“It might take two, but it’s worth the trip,” Bowen said.

They will replace the American, Russian and Japanese crews who have been there since October. The other residents of the space station, two Russians and an American, doubled their six-month stay until September because of a leak in their Soyuz capsule. The replacement Soyuz arrived last weekend.

Communications engineer Al-Neyadi served as a backup for the first Emirati astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, who traveled to the space station on a Russian rocket for a week-long visit in 2019. The oil-rich federation paid for al-Neyadi’s seat on the SpaceX flight.

He thanked everyone in Arabic and then in English after reaching orbit. “The launch was unbelievable. It was fantastic,” he said.

Sarah al-Amiri, UAE Minister of Public Education and Advanced Technology, said the long-term mission “gives us a new national arena for science and scientific discovery.”

“We don’t want to just go to space and then have nothing to do or no impact there,” said Salem al-Marri, director general of the Emirates Space Center in Dubai.

The UAE already has a spacecraft orbiting Mars, and a tiny rover is heading to the moon aboard a Japanese lander. Two new Emirati astronauts are training in Houston for NASA’s latest astronaut selection.

Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab in space, launching in 1985 aboard the space shuttle Discovery. Syrian cosmonaut Mohammad Faris, launched by Russia, followed two years later. Both spent about a week in space.

This spring, two Saudi astronauts will travel to the space station with Al-Neyadi on a short private SpaceX flight paid for by their government.

“It’s going to be very exciting, very interesting” to put three Arabs into space at the same time, he said last week. “Our district is also eager to learn more.”

He has plenty of appointments to share with his crew, especially during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins this month. As for observing Ramadan from orbit, he said fasting was not mandatory because it would weaken him and jeopardize his mission.

Crew chief Bowen said the four had bonded well as a team despite differences between their countries. The United States and Russia have continued to cooperate on the space station and swap seats on the space station despite tensions over the war in Ukraine.

“It’s been amazing to have the opportunity to fly with these guys,” Bowen said.


The Associated Press Health and Science Division is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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