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SpaceX launches its 9th crewed mission to space


SpaceX launched another set of astronauts to the International Space Station early Thursday, after a problem with a ground system delayed the launch earlier in the week.

The company’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 12:34 a.m. from launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev. They are expected to reach the orbital outpost early Friday to begin a six-month stay.

The mission is SpaceX’s sixth operational human spaceflight mission for NASA since it was awarded a $2.6 billion contract as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew program. It also flew a test flight of a pair of NASA astronauts in 2020 and has flown two crews of private citizens as well.

Boeing is also under contract from NASA to transport astronauts to and from the station, and its contract was for a significantly higher amount, $4.2 billion. But Boeing, faced with a series of technical problems, has yet to fly a single crew. The company is hoping its first test flight with a pair of astronauts will come in April.

SpaceX scrubbed an earlier Crew-6 launch attempt Monday after a problem with a ground system that supplies a liquid that combines with liquid oxygen to ignite the rocket booster’s nine engines.

In a blog post Wednesday, NASA said the problem was due to “a clogged ground filter.” SpaceX crews replaced the filter, purged the supply lines “and verified the lines are clean and ready for launch,” NASA said.

The Dragon spacecraft transporting the Crew-6 astronauts to the station is called “Endeavour.” It has transported three other crews to the space station, including that of Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the astronauts whose test flight in 2020 was the first human spaceflight mission launched from the United States since the space shuttle was retired in 2011. They named the spacecraft Endeavour after the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which transported both of them on their first trips to space.

The mission has been described as historic in the United Arab Emirates, a country that is seeking to position itself as a leader in space exploration. It describes Alneyadi as the first Arab astronaut to embark on a long-term mission to the space station, and the second Emirati national to travel to space. On Thursday, UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan congratulated Alneyadi for taking the first step on “his pioneering mission” aboard the ISS.

“His inspiring achievement is a source of great pride to the UAE and another milestone in the journey of our nation and the ambitions of our people,” he added.

The flight comes days after a Russian rescue spacecraft arrived at the space station to replace another that had sprung a leak. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, determined it was not safe to fly the crew — NASA astronaut Frank Rubio as well as Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin — home on the leaking craft. After a second capsule, this one designed to fly cargo only, sprang a similar leak while docked at the station, NASA officials sought assurances that the replacement craft would be in good working order.

The back-to-back leaks created a bit of drama on the station as well. But Nicole Mann, a NASA astronaut aboard the orbiting laboratory, said the international crews have been able to work together to overcome the problems.

“It’s very impressive to me to see how everybody comes together to work with these off-nominal situations,” she said during a news briefing with reporters Wednesday from the station. “For me, this really optimizes what we’re doing as human beings to explore in space. We are uniting the world as a species, and together, when we combine our efforts, it’s remarkable what we can achieve.”

Annabelle Timsit contributed to this report.

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