UAE makes history: Astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi blasts off on longest Arab space mission; as it happened

Khaleej Times gives you a blow-by-blow account as the historic moment unfolds

By Sahim Salim, Kirstin Bernabe-Santos, Angel Tesorero, Nandini Sircar, and Shihab

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Published: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 6:16 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Mar 2023, 5:13 PM

[This blog is now closed. Follow Khaleej Times on all platforms — from the website, app, social media to the print edition — to know more about what's happening next. Remember to tune in tomorrow as we bring you updates on Sultan AlNeyadi's arrival at the International Space Station. ]

UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi, all suited and booted, is on his way to make history for the Emirates today as the longest Arab space mission takes off after a three-day wait.

This will be the second launch attempt after the first had to be scrubbed in the final two minutes of the countdown over an 'unsual data signature' from the Falcon-9 rocket's ignition fluid.

The mission was given the green light on Wednesday, with 95 per cent chance of favourable weather conditions and all systems thoroughly checked.

Nasa’s Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station is blasting off today at 9.34am (UAE time) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. AlNeyadi, along with Nasa astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, will spend six months in the orbiting laboratory.

Khaleej Times' reporters, editors, and photographers have all hands on deck to give you a blow-by-blow account of the liftoff.

Here's how it happened:

12.21pm: UAE's next space flight

Speaking at a post-launch conference at Nasa, Salem AlMarri, director-general of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, said the next space flight will probably happen in the next three to five years.

“We are currently focused on this mission (UAE Mission 2)....We currently have four astronauts and we are planning on short and long-duration missions. The next flight can happen in the next 3-5 years," he said.

12.15pm: Yes to human space flights

Learning a lot from the flight that saw the first Emirati in space in 2019, the UAE now has a 'long-term strategy' of wanting to be a player in human space flights, said Salem Al Marri, director-general of the MBRSC.

"We see the importance of it. We want human space flight to be in the region. There wasn't a lot of active human spaceflight in the Arab region and we think that needs to change," he said at the post-launch conference at Nasa.

"With this second flight which is a long duration flight…it's making history for us in the region. I think we will be the 11th country that’s doing a long-term spaceflight to the ISS. That sends a clear message that we are here to be active players and we are here to stay.

"We can only do that with partnerships. We look forward to a successful docking and a very successful mission and to future missions.”

12pm: On track for docking tomorrow

During the Nasa post-launch press briefing, Benji Reed, senior director, Human Spaceflight Program at SpaceX, assured everything is in order for tomorrow’s scheduled docking despite an issue with one of the hook sensors aboard Crew Dragon.

Reed said the sensor showed an anomaly that has been corrected.

11.50am: No words for such a beautiful sight!

Hazzaa AlMansoori, the first Emirati astronaut, tweeted this Nasa photo of the liftoff, saying it's the first rocket launch he has ever seen.

"I'm at a loss for words to express how happy I am to see my brother Sultan soar through the heavens," he added.

11.35am: Expert explains

Mohammed AlBulooshi, manager of the Space Operations Section at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, the launch was a "historic moment not only for the UAE but for the entire Arab world".

"We are really excited and we’ll wait for Dragon to arrive at the ISS," he added.

Explaining the procedures, AlBulooshi said: “The launch phase starts even before the liftoff. Technical reviews to decide whether to proceed with the launch and even weather forecast briefings take place continously. The decision goes on until ‘Launch -45 seconds’ whether it will be a ‘go or no-go’. Today, we heard that we are good for the lift-off.

After two minutes, the first stage of the rocket separation happened. Then after eight minutes the second stage separation took place and the Dragon entered the orbit of the ISS.

11.14am: Next up, a meal and a new suit

Once the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft gets to a safe orbit, AlNeyadi and the rest of Crew-6 will change out of their flight suits, eat some packed food and confirm with mission control to affirm that things are going as planned.

The ride to the ISS is actually is designed for seven people, but Nasa needs only four seats so that is the number of seats right now. Crew Dragon has human-friendly features like touchscreens, comfortable seating, life support systems and a space toilet.

Here's a closer look inside Space X's Dragon spacecraft:

11.02am: A moment pride

The UAE's leaders tweeted messages of pride as AlNeyadi takes the country's flag to space.

The President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the astronaut's achievement is another milestone for the nation.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, also tweeted about the historic event:

10.55am: Microgravity caught on cam

A video clip shared by the MBRSC shows Suhail floating on board the Dragon spacecraft — which means the crew is now at 'zero gravity'.

At this point, though, gravity is still present at a very low level; thus, it's more accurate to call it micro-gravity. It still results in a state of weightlessness, so objects are seen floating around.

10.45am: Now in orbit

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavour, carrying UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi and his Crew-6 mates, has safely reached orbit. It is now traveling at approximately 28,163kph.

SpaceX Crew-6 is expected to reach the ISS 25 hours after the launch or 9.11am (UAE time) tomorrow morning.

The microgravity laboratory is orbiting Earth every 90 minutes at a velocity of 28,000kmph and the journey to the space station is a series of rocket burns or engine firings that must be precisely timed to achieve the correct orbit.

10.30am: Surprise! Suhail is back in space

While the Dragon spacecraft is cruising towards the ISS, AlNeyadi took the opportunity to introduce the "fifth member" of Crew-6 — 'Suhail', the blue-and-white astro stuffed toy from the MBRSC.

This is actually Suhail’s second trip to the orbiting space laboratory. In 2019, he tagged along with Hazzaa AlMansoori during his eight-day trip to the ISS.

10.15am: So, what happens next?

Once in orbit, Crew-6 and the SpaceX mission control in California will monitor a series of automatic manoeuvres that will guide Endeavour to the space-facing port of the station’s Harmony module. Here are the details.

9.57am: AlNeyadi speaks to the world in Arabic

UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi has addressed the world in Arabic from aboard the Dragon Endeavour spacecraft that is cruising towards the International Space Statioin.

"Assalamualaikum (traditional Arabic and Islamic greeting that means 'peace be upon you')," he began, as he announced that he would start off with a few words in Arabic. "Shukran jazeelan (thanks a lot)."

Calling the experience incredible and amazing, he said: "Thank you to everyone, my parents, family, leadership and Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. Thank you everyone who trained us and got us ready. Thanks, Nasa and Space X. Go, Dragon! Go, Falcon!"

Here's a photo of him earlier today, prior to the launch:


9.50am: Now at ultra-fast speed


The Dragon Endeavour spacecraft has separated from the second stage. The spacecraft is traveling at approximately 17,500 miles per hour.

9.43am: A message from Sultan of Space

“The next time I address you, I will be aboard the International Space Station.” UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi posts his first message on Twitter as the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft roared off. Read more about this heartfelt note here.

Here's one of the photos he tweeted along with his message:

9.41am: Goosebumps!

Teams and spectators at the MBRSC cheered and congratulated each other as the spacecraft carrying Crew-6 lifts off.

Here's a view of journalists capturing the moment with their phones:

9.38am: Separation stage

The Falcon 9 rocket has reached first stage main engine cutoff. The first and second stages have separated, Nasa has confirmed.

9.34am: Liftoff!

'Go, Dragon! Go, Falcon!' Applause breaks out as Crew-6 takes off, marking the start of a 25-hour journey to the ISS and a six-month space mission.

The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft roared off of Launch Pad 39A at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Max Q, or the moment of peak mechanical stress on the rocket, has been reached, Nasa said.

Watch the milestone moment here:

9.32am: Sheikh Hamdan arrives at space centre

The Dubai Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, joins the ground control team at the MBRSC just a couple of minutes before the launch.

9.28am: Excitement peaks at ground station

Reporters and spectators take their seats in front of a screen live-streaming the launch. Excitement, along with nervousness, is in the air with a historic moment about to unfold. The space shuttle is due for liftoff in less than ten minutes now.

9.24am: Filling up the tank

The second stage of fuel loading is complete, and liquid oxygen loading has begun. Everything remains on target for the 9.34am launch. Weather condition is extremely favourable, too.

9.12am: Escape route ready in case of emergency

The launch escape system for the Dragon spacecraft Endeavour is now armed. From liftoff, it will take roughly 12 minutes before they reach the orbit. During this period, he crew would be able to escape safely in the unlikely event of an emergency.

9.02am: Green light confirmed

It’s a ‘Go’ for launch at 9.34am! Just a little over 30 minutes remain for UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi to blast off to the International Space Station. The SpaceX launch director has conducted a poll of mission managers to determine readiness for launch. With a successful ‘Go for launch’ decision, the crew access arm has retracted from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

Here's a video clip of the crew access arm moving away from the rocket:

Right on schedule – at T-minus 35 minutes – RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) and first-stage liquid oxygen loading has begun. The launch escape system for the Dragon spacecraft Endeavour is now armed. From liftoff until they reach orbit – roughly 12 minutes – the crew would be able to escape safely in the unlikely event of an emergency, Nasa said.

8.47am: Dates in space

Of all the things AlNeyadi had planned to pack in his bag, there's one thing he said he couldn't forget to bring: Dates.

The astronaut will be spending Ramadan in space in a few weeks, and during this period, he will be sharing dates and the Emirati culture with the ISS team. Read more about what the mission means for AlNeyadi here.

8.34am: Last 60 minutes

UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi is just one hour away from creating history. The Emirati space traveller and his Crew-6 mates are strapped inside their Dragon Endeavour spacecraft, preparing for their 24.5-hour journey to the International Space Station. About 45 minutes prior to liftoff, the SpaceX launch director will conduct a poll of Nasa and SpaceX mission managers to determine if they are ready for launch.

“With a successful ‘Go for launch’ decision, the crew access arm will retract, the crew will close their visors, the launch escape system will be activated in the unlikely event of a contingency, and SpaceX will begin loading propellant into the Falcon 9 rocket for launch,” Nasa said.

8.23am: Zero gravity

Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi is "super excited" about his first space mission, his backup colleague Hazza AlMansoori has said. "Sultan (and his Crew-6 mates) ... can't wait to experience weightlessness and conduct experiments on board the International Space Station."

Astronauts on the ISS are in free fall all the time and thus experience microgravity. The astronauts feel 'weightless' and float around.

8.15am: Media on standby

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) is abuzz, with journalists recording history in the making. Besides the screen set up for a live-stream, interviews with experts are lined up to help the media give more depth to the coverage.

8.09am: 'We love you Sultan of Space'

With Emiratis heading to space, the UAE is inspiring a new generation of astronauts. Here are youngsters hailing from different parts of the world sending their love to AlNeyadi:

7.56am: Weather watch

A 95 per cent chance of favourable weather conditions is predicted for an on-time Crew-6 launch liftoff, according to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s 45th Weather Squadron.

Launch teams, however, are also keeping an eye on weather situation along Dragon’s ascent corridor (the path Falcon 9 takes to get to space). This trajectory called the ascent corridor runs north along the US East Coast.

This is very important because if there is a need to trigger the emergency abort system to save the Crew Dragon from a problem with the rocket once it launches, the space capsule (Dragon Endeavour) would need to land under good weather conditions anywhere along that corridor.

7.47am: Home for 6 months

At the International Space Station (ISS), where four astronauts and three cosmonauts are currently residing, everything is ready for the arrival of Crew-6 — from the sleeping bags to the food and workstations. Read more about the preparations here.

Here's a look inside a section of the ISS called 'Quest airlock'. In this photo Nasa astronauts Frank Rubio and Josh Cassada (two of the current residents of the station) are seen working on a pair of spacesuits:

Photo Courtesy: Nasa
Photo Courtesy: Nasa

7.39am: Almost there

The hatch is now closed on the Dragon spacecraft Endeavour, sealing the flight crew inside for their historic journey. Less than two hours to go for liftoff!

Here's a video of the astronauts waving goodbye and their seats rotating into position:

7.20am: What happened in the first attempt

Nasa explained that mission teams had to stand down from the February 27 launch attempt to review an “unusual data signature” in the ignition fluid used to start the Falcon 9’s nine engines.

The issue turned out to be a clogged ground filter. "SpaceX teams replaced the filter, purged the TEA-TEB line with nitrogen, and verified the lines are clean and ready for launch," the space authority said in a statement. Read more about the details here.


7.10am: Buckled up

UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi and his Crew-6 mates are now inside the Dragon spacecraft, Endeavour. The seats are being rotated into position for launch.

The seating order inside the spacecraft, from left, are: Mission Specialist Andrey Fedyaev, Pilot Warren Hoburg, Commander Stephen Bowen, and Mission Specialist Sultan AlNeyadi.

7am: Crew steps into spacecraft

UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi and his Crew-6 mates are now boarding the Dragon spacecraft, Endeavour.

As the crewmates board, their seats are configured in the upright position. Later, prior to closure of the spacecraft’s side hatch, the seats will be rotated into a reclined position for flight.

6.45am: 'We need your prayers'

Emirati astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi has thanked one and all for their encouragement that has led them him and his Crew-6 mates to the launch of their six-month space mission.

In a video, a fully suited up AlNeyadi is seen inside a customised black Tesla X seconds before it left for the launchpad. “In sha Allah (by the will of Allah), it will be a successful launch and mission. We need your prayers. With your prayers and support, we will reach our goal, in sha Allah,” he is heard saying in the video posted by Salem AlMarri, Director-General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).

6.34am: Crew arrives at launch site

Crew-6 mates Stephen Bowen, Warren Hoburg, Sultan AlNeyadi, and Andrey Fedyaev have arrived at Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A, where SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, is ready for them to climb in for launch.

In the next few minutes, the crew will take the elevator up the pad’s fixed service structure and walk down the crew access arm to the White Room – their final stop before climbing aboard.

6.25am: Boarding custom Teslas

It's happening! Crew-6 members have boarded their custom black Teslas are on their way to Kennedy Space Centre’s Pad 3. They are right on schedule, Nasa said.

Before leaving, the space travellers bid goodbyes to family, friends, and support team members who gathered to see them off.

At the launch site, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft Endeavour are ready for the crew’s arrival.

6.19am: A heartwarming send-off

A touching video shared online shows UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi's friends and family singing a song of encouragement inside a bus. The Emirati astronaut's loved ones were on their way to the space centre to bid their goodbyes before he boards a Tesla for the approximate 20-minute ride to the launchpad.

6.05am: Astronauts suit up

Nasa astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, along with UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, suit up for launch. The crewmates are getting ready inside the Astronaut Crew Quarters at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

During suit-up activities, SpaceX suit technicians will help the crew put on their custom-fitted spacesuits and check the suits for leaks, Nasa said. Once suited up, the flight crew will depart the Operations and Checkout Building and take a short car ride to Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A.

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