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NASA's SpaceX Crew-6 mission astronaut Sultan Al-Neyadi, from the United Arab Emirates, waves as the crew departs for the launch pad before launch to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., March 1, 2023. REUTERS/Steve Nesius Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: Arabs’ dreams and ‘Zayed’s ambition’ lit up the night sky in Florida in the US in the wee hours of Thursday when NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 mission blasted off to space with the UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi for the longest Arab mission in space.

The UAE made another giant leap into space when the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Al Neyadi and three other crew members in the Crew-6 Dragon ‘Endeavour’ lifted off at 9.34am here from the Launch Complex 39A of Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

The country became eleventh in the world to lift off for a long duration mission at the International Space Station (ISS) as Al Neyadi’s launch for UAE Mission 2 (also called Zayed Ambition 2) became a success in the second attempt after a scrubbed launch on Monday.

Thursday’s launch became possible after SpaceX replaced a clogged filter that had caused the unusual data signature related to the ignition fluid, known as triethylaluminum triethylboron (TEA-TEB), which is used to start the Falcon 9’s first stage kerosene and liquid oxygen Merlin engines.

The milestone achievement, which incidentally fell on the fancy date 02/03/23, heralded a new era in Arab space history, with the UAE making its message of readiness for the space age loud and clear. “ ... We are here to be active players and we are here to stay,” Salem Al Marri, director general of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), the agency behind the UAE Astronaut Programme, said after the successful lift-off.

“There wasn’t a lot of active human space flight in the Arab region, and we think that needs to change,” said Al Marri. He also announced that the country plans to send astronauts for human space flights every three to five years.

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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from pad 39A for the Crew-6 mission at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, early on March 2, 2023. - NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 mission is the sixth crew rotation mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) Image Credit: AFP

Source of great pride

President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, led the nation in congratulating “Sultan of Space,” who is set to arrive at the ISS at 10.17am on Friday, by referring to him as a “source of great pride” and “true son of the UAE.”

“I join the nation in congratulating Sultan Al Neyadi as he begins his pioneering mission aboard the International Space Station. 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,” tweeted the President.

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Sheikh Mohamed noted that the participation in this mission reflects the country’s vision and directions in strengthening its contributions to future sciences.

“The participation of Emiratis in this mission is seen as a step closer towards achieving our vision of ensuring a better future for generations and strengthen their participation in building the future.”

The President also highlighted the national strategy the UAE adopts to develop its scientific manpower and prepare young Emiratis to contribute in scientific research to serve humanity.

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United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi waves from the backseat of a car after leaving the Operations and Checkout building for a trip to Launch Pad 39-A Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Al-Neyadi is among four astronauts scheduled to liftoff early Thursday morning on a trip to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/John Raoux) Image Credit: AP

True son of UAE

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid tweeted: “Today marks a historic moment as Sultan Al Neyadi, a true son of the UAE, embarks on a six-month mission to the International Space Station, becoming the first Arab space pioneer in such a long mission. The UAE people are truly a source of pride and inspiration, elevating our standing in the world and paving the way for Arab youth to pursue paths filled with hope and knowledge.”

Sheikh Mohammed affirmed that the ambitions of the UAE in the space sector are a clear reflection of its vision of shaping the future. “Our ambition in exploring space sciences is limitless, and we are keen to strengthening our position in this promising sector.”

He also affirmed the UAE’s keenness to complement the ambitions of the late founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. “We are always inspired by the ambitions of our founding father … This can be seen most clearly today by our participation in ‘Zayed Ambition 2’, the longest Arab Space Mission in History.”

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed , Crown Prince of Dubai watches the Falcon 9 rocket lift off from Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai. Photo: Dubai Media Office

Special applause

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai and President of MBRSC, was personally present to witness the launch of the Emirati astronaut for the historic Arab mission in space.

Applauding Al Neyadi as he blasted off to space, Sheikh Hamdan was seen congratulating the MBRSC team members at the ground station in Al Khawaneej. Sharing a video capturing the highlights of the day, Sheikh Hamdan tweeted: “Congratulations to the UAE & the Arab world for achieving a historical milestone. Today, we start a new mission to explore space and achieve the impossible. We wish Sultan Al Neyadi success in this new journey.”

Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, also took to Twitter and posted: “Congratulation to @MohamedBinZayed & @HHShkMohd on @Astro_Alneyadi

historic mission to the International Space Station. His inspiring journey will remain a beacon for all Emiratis to achieve exceptional feats in space exploration. From Zayed’s ambition, we set out for the future.”

Several ministers and other top officials also joined a large number of residents and MBRSC officials in congratulating Al Neyadi on social media.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the crew capsule Endeavour lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/John Raoux) Image Credit: AP

Hopes, dreams and vision

Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori, chairman, MBRSC said: “As we venture into the depths of space, we carry with us the hopes and dreams of our nation, and the determination to make history. Today, we celebrate not just the successful launch of the longest Arab space mission in history, but the realisation of a vision that will inspire generations to come. We are highly grateful of our wise leadership whose constant support is a source of strength and inspiration for the team to constantly take on new challenges. Our mission through these scientific endeavours is to keep the UAE flag flying high and be at the forefront of countries contributing to scientific achievements.”

Al Marri added: “With the successful launch of the UAE’s second manned space mission and the longest Arab space mission in history, we have proven that our aspirations and the will to achieve them are limitless. Congratulations to Sultan AlNeyadi and the entire team behind the mission, who have worked tirelessly to make this historic moment a reality. We are looking forward to the 180 days on board the International Space Station.”

The ‘Zayed Ambition 2’ Mission, is a part of the UAE Astronaut Programme, which is one of the projects managed by MBRSC under the UAE’s National Space Programme and funded by the ICT Fund of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA), which aims to support research and development in the ICT sector in the UAE and promote the country’s integration on the global stage.

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UAE astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri and the team at the space centre

How history unfolded

History in the making started unfolding much before the break of dawn in the UAE as Al Neyadi and his crew mates along with Nasa astronauts Stephen Bowen (Spacecraft Commander) and Warren Hoburg (Pilot) and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev (Mission Specialist) set out from inside the crew quarters at the Kennedy Space Centre at around 6.15am here. They were greeted with a loud round of applause and cheers by family members and others waiting outside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building as the quartet made the historic “stepping out” for the mission.

It was rather an amusing farewell for the crew members this time as they bid by to their loved ones for the second time in three days.

“Yalla! We are going today,” Al Neyadi told his family, laughing.

Once again, the crew loaded up inside a caravan of black Teslas customised for the Dragon Crew-6 mission. Since SpaceX is owned by Elon Musk, it is a custom for the crew flying on its spacecraft to be escorted to the launch pad in Teslas.

The sleek black Tesla which Al Neyadi boarded carried the number plate CRW DR6N. The crew members arrived at the launch site escorted by a helicopter and a convoy of security and medical personnel.

Astro lean, space elevator

Crew-6 performed the customary ‘astro lean’ looking up at their rocket in their spacesuits just before boarding Falcon 9 for crew ingress. They took the tower elevator dubbed as the ‘space elevator’ in which the ground button denotes ‘Earth’ and the 255th floor button denotes ‘Space.’

The crew then walked through the “White Room” on the crew access arm to enter their Dragon capsule Endeavour. Sultan gave a big thumbs-up as he walked through the White Room. Before entering the capsule, he made a final phone call as well.

The strapped-up quartet gave a perfect picture opportunity when they waved as the Nasa camerawoman left their capsule. Their seats were rotated and reclined for lift-off. Following this, four rounds of suit leak checks were conducted. This included inflating their spacesuits.

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Members of the SpaceX Dragon Crew-6 mission, Mission Specialist Andrey Fedyaev of Roscosmos (L), Pilot Warren "Woody" Hoburg (2nd L), Commander Stephen Bowen (2nd R), and Mission Specialist Sultan Alneyadi of the United Arab Emirates (R) waving from the inside of their Dragon Endeavour spacecraft ahead of the expected liftoff at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on March 1, 2023. - A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is to make a second attempt to blast off for the International Space Station carrying two NASA astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and the second Emirati to voyage to space. (Photo by NASA TV / AFP)
Key milestones
Key milestones
The other key milestones of the launch followed as below
8:52am: Crew access arm retracted
8.56am Dragon launch escape system was armed
8.59am Falcon 9 rocket propellant loading began
9.27am Falcon 9 began engine chill prior to launch
9.32am Propellant load completed; Dragon switched to internal power
9.33am SpaceX launch director verified final go for launch
9.34 history created with Crew-6 blasting off to space
9.35am Max Q (moment of peak mechanical stress witnessed on the rocket)
9. 36am First stage main engine cut-off (MECO)
9.36am First and second stages separated
9.36am Second stage engine started
9.41am First stage entry burn
9:42am Second stage engine cut-off (SECO-1)
9.43 First stage landing on SpaceX drone ship
9.46am Dragon separated from second stage
9.47am Dragon nose cone sequence began

Applause, cheers on ground

There were applauses and cheers on the ground in all the control stations in the US and the MBRSC ground station and media room in Dubai when Crew-6 lifted off and when the dragon propelled into the microgravity of space after launch escape system was disarmed.

Just as his spacecraft reached orbit in space, Al Neyadi and other crew members spoke to the ground control.

Assalamu Aalaikum from space

Speaking first in Arabic from space, Al Neyadi greeted everyone with “Assalamu alaikum.” After speaking in Arabic, he repeated the same in English.

“I would like to say thank you to everybody. Thanks to my parents, my family, thanks to our leadership, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre for the trust. Thank you (to) everybody who trained us and got us ready for this mission. This is incredible … launch was incredible … amazing. Thank you so much. And last but not least, thank you, Nasa, thank you SpaceX for flying us to space. Go Dragon! Go SpaceX!”

Al Neyadi also made a surprise announcement about a “fifth crew member” aboard the spacecraft.

He introduced Suhail, a stuffed toy mascot of MBRSC, which will be accompanying as the zero-gravity indicator throughout his six-month Expedition 69.

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From left, Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, NASA astronauts Warren Hoburg, Stephen Bowen, and United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi pose for a photo after leaving the Operations and Checkout building for a trip to Launch Pad 39-A Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The astronauts are scheduled to liftoff early Thursday morning on a trip to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/John Raoux) Image Credit: AP

Friday’s highlights

At a post-launch press conference broadcast by Nasa, Benji Reed, senior director, Human Spaceflight Program, SpaceX, said Crew-6 is safely on their way to the space station.

Crew-6 is looking to dock to Harmony module on ISS at 10.17am GST on Friday, March 3, said Steve Stich, manager, Commercial Crew Programme, Kennedy.

The hatch opening is scheduled at 11.55am here and there will be a welcome ceremony aboard the ISS at 12.40pm here.

This is the first crewed launch of 2023 and will bring the total number of people who have been to space to 657. Crew-6 lifted off on the fourth anniversary of Dragon’s Demo-1, SpaceX’s first test flight to the International Space Station