An Emirati about to take off to the International Space Station

A multicultural crew, made up of two American astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and an Emirati astronaut, is to take off overnight from Sunday to Monday from Florida aboard a SpaceX rocket to reach the International Space Station.

Liftoff is scheduled to take place from Kennedy Space Center on Monday at 1:45 a.m. local time, 06:45 GMT. The weather is forecast to be 95% favourable. The Dragon capsule in which the four passengers are traveling must dock with the space station (ISS) after a trip of about a day.

Sultan al-Neyadi, 41, will become the fourth astronaut from an Arab country in history, the second Emirati, but the first from his country to spend six months in space.

“We are physically, mentally and technically ready,” he told reporters when he arrived at the space center on Tuesday. “It’s a great honor to be here, and even a privilege,” he added.

The mission also includes a Russian astronaut, Andrei Fediayev, just as tensions between Washington and Moscow are at their highest, a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It was already planned before the Moscow offensive for Russians to travel with SpaceX and Americans with Russian Soyuz ships – an exchange program maintained despite extreme diplomatic tensions. The space station is one of the few fields of cooperation still in progress between the two countries.

Asked about the impact of these political tensions on the crew, the mission commander, the American Stephen Bowen, replied on Tuesday that it was “rare that these issues are raised in everyday conversations”, and that he and his teammates remained “focused on the mission”.

The crew, dubbed “Crew-6”, is the sixth to travel to the ISS on a regular rotational mission provided by SpaceX. The capsule carrying them, named Endeavour, has already flown through space three times.

NASA hires the services of the American company to send its astronauts approximately every six months to the flying laboratory.

They conduct scientific experiments there and ensure the maintenance of the station, which has been permanently inhabited for more than 22 years.

Crew-6 will replace the four members of Crew-5 (two Americans, a Russian and a Japanese), who arrived in October 2022 and who will return to Earth aboard their own SpaceX ship, after a few days of handover.

On board the ISS are also three other passengers (two Russians and an American), who arrived on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The latter suffered a leak last December, which made it dangerous for the three passengers to return to Earth on board. The Russian space agency Roscomos therefore sent a rescue vessel, which docked safely with the ISS on Saturday.

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