An array of cutting-edge propulsion systems will be employed in this space expedition
[Editor's Note: This blog is now closed. Tune in for updates on the next launch attempt, scheduled for Thursday, March 2. Read more about it here.]
The UAE is shooting for the stars again — with astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi blasting off for the longest Arab space mission in history.
AlNeyadi, the second Emirati to take the UAE flag to space, is set to become the Arab world's first long-term mission specialist. Together with his crewmates from Nasa and Roscosmos, he will be spending 180 days on board the orbiting laboratory of the International Space Station (ISS), conducting experiments that will significantly contribute to humanity's understanding of life on and beyond Earth.
Khaleej Times has all hands on deck to bring you real-time updates from the ground station at Dubai's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and the launch site Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral in Florida, US.
AlNeyadi was expected to blast off from Earth and embark on a 25-hour journey to the ISS at 10.45am (UAE time).
Here's what happened during the launch attempt on February 27:
1.02pm: New launch attempt date announced
The next available launch attempt is on Thursday, March 2, "pending resolution of the technical issue preventing Monday’s launch", say Nasa and Space X. Read the details here.
12.26pm: Sheikh Hamdan tweets encouragement
The Dubai Crown Prince shares a message of support soon after the delay was announced.
11.50am: Crew exits spacecraft
SpaceX has removed propellant from the Falcon 9 rocket and the astronauts have exited the Dragon spacecraft for crew quarters. Both the Falcon 9 and Dragon are in a "safe configuration".
11.44am: Astronauts cleared to disembark
Propellant offload is now complete and launch escape system has been disarmed. The crew access arm has swung back in place for the crew to egress, SpaceX said. Now that the rocket's fuel has been offloaded, the four astronauts, who were strapped in, can exit the spacecraft.
Here's how it took place:
11.28am: 'Ground control anomaly'
It was Nasa that announced the space mission had been 'scrubbed' two minutes before liftoff due to a 'ground control anomaly'.
But what does 'scrubbing' mean? Here's an explainer.
11.10am: Potential backup dates
As part of preparations for the mission, Nasa had earlier announced a backup launch opportunities for Tuesday, February 28, at 10.22am (UAE time) and Thursday, March 2, at 9.34am (UAE time).
10.58am: New launch date to be released soon
The launch of SpaceX Crew-6 mission from Kennedy Space Centre to the International Space Station has been "scrubbed". The delay was announced with just a little over two minutes to go for launch.
"Today's Crew-6 launch has been scrubbed due to an issue with ground systems. Stand by for details on a new launch date and time," Nasa said.
10.50am: Mission delayed
Launch of SpaceX Crew-6 mission from Kennedy Space Centre to the International Space Station has been "scrubbed". The delay was announced with just a little over two minutes to go for launch.
More information to follow.
"Stand by for details on a new launch date and time," Nasa tweeted.
10.40am: 5 minutes to go!
The RP-1 rocket fuel load for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 mission launch is now complete. “It’s just a few minutes until liftoff and all looks good for the Crew-6 launch,” Nasa said.
10.30am: Dubai Crown Prince at ground station
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, arrives arrived at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre (MBRSC) to view the live telecast of the launch of Crew 6.
10.27am: 25-hour flight to ISS
SpaceX Crew-6 is expected to reach the ISS 25 hours after launch. 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.
SpaceX Crew-1 reached the ISS in 28 hours; SpaceX Crew-2 docked to the ISS after a 24-hour journey; SpaceX Crew-3 arrived at the ISS after 21 hours; SpaceX Crew 4 achieved it at just 16 hours; while it Spacex Crew 5 (preceding AlNeyadi) reached the ISS after 29 hours.
10.23am: We're almost there
We're now down to the last few minutes before liftoff. Before that epic moment, here's a quick look at what happens next once the spacecraft blasts off.
Dragon Endeavour will accelerate its four passengers to approximately 28,000kmph, putting it on an intercept course with the space station. The crew will dock at approximately 2.38am EST (11.38am) UAE time on Tuesday, February 28.
10.16am: Two sets of spacesuits
AlNeyadi and his Crew-6 colleagues have two sets of spacesuits. The one they are wearing now is worn inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft during launch and ascent to space. It will be the same suit they will use on the way home during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
The other set is designed for spacewalks or Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA), and this type of suit is called by Nasa as EVA suit, which is actually a miniature spaceship shaped to conform to human body that protects astronauts from radiation, dust, debris and extreme temperature while in space or on the Moon.
This is how the UAE flag is stitched on AlNeyadi's suit:
Temperatures on spacewalks may vary from as cold as -121 degrees Centigrade to as hot as 121 degrees in sunlight. EVA suits provide astronauts proper pressure for the body and supply them with water to drink and oxygen to breathe.
AlNeyadi is trained to do spacewalk.
10.10am: Falcon 9 at the moment
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. RP-1 (rocket grade kerosene) loading and first stage liquid oxygen loading has begun.
10.07am: Helmets closed
The crew access arm has retracted and the astronauts have closed their visors. The Dragon launch escape system will now be armed in the unlikely event of a contingency. After, SpaceX will begin loading propellant into the Falcon 9 rocket for launch.
10am: A lot of hard work
KT space correspondent Nandini Sircar talks about what went into UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi's extensive preparations leading up to this epic mission:
9.50am: 'It's a go for launch'
Commander Stephen Bowen has confirmed that SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavour spacecraft is ‘Go’ for launch. Weather remains favourable, and the team is on target for a 10.45am (UAE time) launch.
SpaceX tweeted a clip of the astronauts waving Earth goodbye:
In less than an hour, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with Endeavour atop, will lift off from Kennedy Space Centre’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
The crew will dock Endeavour to the forward port on the space station’s Harmony module about 25 hours after liftoff.
9.43am: 'Until we meet again'
An hour before liftoff, AlNeyadi tweets a heartfelt 'goodbye' message for the UAE and everyone he's leaving behind on Earth — for six months.
Here's his tweet:
9.35am: Ground crew in action
All eyes are on their monitors at ground control room of the MBRSC, with the crew following the mission closely.
Here's what's happening behind the scenes:
Outside the control room, top officials of the centre are speaking with the media, sharing more details about the mission and the latest developments in the sector.
9.30am: Sky still looking great
Weather officials continue to predict a 95 per cent chance of favourable weather conditions for SpaceX Crew-6 launch from Kennedy Space Centre.
The flight crew is seated and secured inside their Dragon Endeavour spacecraft preparing for their 25-hour journey to the International Space Station. About 45 minutes prior to liftoff, the SpaceX launch director will conduct a poll of 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.
9.21am: Astronauts' training
With a little over an hour before the launch, the energy is picking up in Florida. Experts on the ground share their insights on what these space missions mean for countries and for the world.
Salem Al Marri, director-general of the MBRSC, took the opportunity to explain the UAE's mission of honing its own space crew — which started in 2017. In 2018, the country announced its first astronauts: Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi.
“It’s a big responsibility for us. We kicked off this astronaut programme in 2017. We wanted to have a sustainable programme, a programme that has a positive impact on human space flight. So we selected our astronauts. We made sure they are training with Nasa, with Roscosmos. They get the full set of training to become astronauts that can contribute to the advancement of space flight. So, this mission is a fulfillment of that vision today," Al Marri said.
9.10am: An international mission
For Nasa, international partnerships are the 'lifeblood' of its commercial crew programme. Nasa administrator Bill Nelson said: "As we go back to the Moon, it’s (no longer) just the US government, it’s now an international mission. It’s a public-private partnership as we go back to the Moon and then to Mars. In this particular case… the crew going to the International Space Station (ISS) it’s very much a both of those as well.”
Remember when AlNeyadi shared how a large UAE flag is now on display at a Nasa training facility? All these flags at Nasa do symbolise the global nature of space endeavours.
Read more about this proud-Emirati moment here.
9.05am: All eyes on the spacecraft
The hatch is now closed on the Dragon spacecraft Endeavour. Liftoff is about two hours away from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
Here's a photo shared earlier by the MBRSC:
8.53am: Twitterverse is abuzz
This space mission has been a trending topic on Twitter for hours now, with thousands of tweets tagged 'Zayed's ambition', 'Sultan AlNeyadi', 'Crew-6', 'UAE2Space' and more.
All of the UAE's out-of-this-world milestones — from Hazzaa AlMansoori's historic flight to the Mars and Moon missions — drew millions of views and readers from around the world. And it is expected that this new epic odyssey will be no different.
8.50am: Exciting space discoveries
Crew-6's six-month space mission is packed with over 200 science experiments that could yield new, exciting discoveries.
Nasa has shared details of some of the studies that will support human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and benefit life on Earth. From microgravity to life in the great beyond, read about some of their upcoming experiments here.
8.45: Two hours to go
8.38am: Looking up at the rocket
Here's a look at how AlNeyadi ticked off a pre-launch tradition upon his arrival at the complex:
8.35am: Good weather
Weather is 95 per cent favourable. By launch time, temperatures will hover around 18° Celsius at the launch site, with a few wispy or feathery clouds high overhead, under starry skies. Winds on the ground will vary from calm to 8kmph.
8.28am: Ready to go
UAE astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi and his Crew-6 mates have now boarded the Dragon spacecraft, Endeavour. Nasa said launch configuration communication checks have been executed "with no issues". The seats are now being rotated into position for launch.
The seating order inside Endeavour (from left) are: Mission Specialist Andrey Fedyaev, Pilot Woody Hoburg, Commander Stephen Bowen, and Mission Specialist Sultan AlNeyadi.
Liftoff is now two-and-a-half hours away.
8.20am: Making headlines
Media outlets from across the country have gathered at the ground station MBRSC, ready to record history in the making.
Here's KT reporter Nandini Sircar at work:
8.15am: A big thank you
Before leaving for the launchpad, AlNeyadi and his crew members waved and thanked their family, friends, and support team members who gathered to see them off. They then climbed into their customised white Tesla Model X vehicles for the approximate 20-minute ride to the pad. The crew’s vehicle travelled in a convoy, including support team members and security personnel.
Here's a video of AlNeyadi saying goodbye to his loved ones:
8.08am: Buckled up
The Crew-6 astronauts take their seats aboard the spacecraft.
This is a scene we have seen a few days ago during the team's rehearsal. This time, it's for real.
8.06am: All aboard!
Space X Crew-6 members are now boarding the Dragon spacecraft, Endeavour. As the crewmates board, their seats are configured in the upright position.
Prior to the closure of the spacecraft’s side hatch, the seats will be rotated into a reclined position for flight.
According to Nasa, all four crew members signed the inside of the 'White Room', an area at the end of the crew access arm that provides access to the spacecraft.
8.03am: Did you know...
Before the liftoff, the astronauts will be following a series of traditions. One is done, three to go:
7.57am: Now at the launch complex
Nasa's SpaceX Crew-6 — Stephen Bowen, Warren “Woody” 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.
7.51am: Crew-6 on their way to launchpad
7.40am: 'It all started with Zayed's ambition'
Another historic moment is unfolding today in the UAE. As excitement grips the country, the MBRSC shares a video that captures how the Emirates' space dream began and how far the young nation has come:
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