SpaceX and NASA are preparing to launch a fresh crew to the International Space Station, continuing the public-private effort to keep the orbiting laboratory fully staffed and return astronaut launches to US soil. This mission will include crew members from all over the world — two NASA astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule are expected to take off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 1:45 a.m. ET Monday.
The Crew Dragon, the vehicle carrying the astronauts, will detach from the rocket after launch and spend about one day maneuvering through orbit before linking up with the ISS. The capsule is slated to dock with the space station at 2:38 a.m. ET Tuesday.
This mission will mark the seventh astronaut flight SpaceX has carried out on NASA’s behalf since 2020.
The Crew-6 team on board will include NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen, a veteran of three space shuttle missions, and first-time flyer Warren Hoburg, as well as Sultan Alneyadi, who will be the second astronaut from the UAE ever to travel to space, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
Once Bowen, Hoburg, Fedyaev and Alneyadi are on board the ISS, they’ll work to take over operations from the SpaceX Crew-5 astronauts who arrived at the space station in October 2022.
They’re expected to spend up to six months on board the orbiting laboratory, carrying out science experiments and maintaining the two-decade-old station.
The mission comes as the Crew-5 astronauts currently on the ISS have been grappling with a separate transportation issue. In December, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that had been used to transport two cosmonauts and one NASA astronaut to the space station sprang a coolant leak. After the capsule was deemed unsafe to return the astronauts, Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, launched a replacement vehicle on February 23. It arrived at the ISS on Saturday.
Russian cosmonaut Fedyaev joined the Crew-6 team as part of a ride-sharing agreement inked last year between NASA and Roscosmos. The agreement aims to ensure continued access to the ISS for both Roscosmos and NASA: Should either the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule or the Russian Soyuz spacecraft used to transport people there experience difficulties and be taken out of service, the other can handle getting astronauts from both countries to orbit.
This will mark Fedyaev’s first mission to space.
Despite ongoing geopolitical tensions spurred by its invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, Russia remains the United States’ primary partner on the ISS. NASA has repeatedly said the conflict has had no impact on cooperation between the countries’ space agencies.
“Space cooperation has a very long history, and we are setting the example of how people should be living on Earth,” Fedyaev said during a news briefing on January 24.
Bowen, the 59-year-old NASA astronaut who will serve as Crew-6 mission commander, also weighed in.
“I’ve been working and training with the cosmonauts for over 20 years now, and it’s always been amazing,” he said during the briefing. “Once you get to space it’s just one crew, one vehicle, and we all have the same goal.”
Bowen grew up in Cohasset, Massachusetts, and studied engineering, obtaining an bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the United States Naval Academy in 1986 and a master’s degree in ocean engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in 1993.
He also completed military submarine training and served in the Navy before he was selected for the NASA astronaut corps in 2000, becoming the first submarine officer to be chosen by the space agency.
He previously completed three missions between 2008 and 2011, during NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, logging a total of more than 47 days in space.
“‘I’m just hoping my body retains the memory from 12 years ago so I can enjoy it,” Bowen said of the Crew-6 launch.
Hoburg, who is serving as pilot for this mission, is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native who completed a doctorate degree in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, before becoming an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. He joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2017.
“We’re going to be living in space for six months. I think back to six months ago and think — OK, that’s a long time,” Hoburg told reporters about his expectations for the journey.
But, Hoburg added, “I’m deeply looking forward to that first look out the cupola,” referring to the well-known area on the ISS that features a large window offering panoramic views of Earth.
Alneyadi, who served as backup in 2019 for Hazza Al Mansouri, the first astronaut from the UAE to travel to orbit, is now slated to become the first UAE astronaut to complete a long-duration stay in space.
In a January news conference, Alneyadi said he planned to bring Middle Eastern food to share with his crewmates while in space. A trained Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, he’ll also be packing along a kimono, the martial art’s traditional uniform.
“It’s hard to believe that this is really happening,” Alneyadi said at a news conference after arriving at Kennedy Space Center on February 21. “I can’t ask for more of a team. I think we are ready — physically, mentally and technically.”
During their stint in space, the Crew-6 astronauts will oversee more than 200 science-oriented projects, including researching how some substances burn in the microgravity environment and investigating microbial samples that will be collected from the exterior of the ISS.
They will play host to two other key missions that will stop by the ISS during their stay. The first is the Boeing Crew Flight Test, which will mark the first astronaut mission under a Boeing-NASA partnership. Slated for April, the flight will carry NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams to the space station, marking the last phase of a testing and demonstration program Boeing needs to carry out to certify its Starliner spacecraft for routine astronaut missions.
Then, in May, a group of four astronauts will arrive on a mission called AX-2 — a privately funded tourism mission to the space station. That mission, which will be carried out by a separate SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, will include former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, now a private astronaut with the Texas-based space tourism company Axiom, which brokered and organized the mission.
It will also include three paying customers, similar to the AX-1 mission that visited the ISS last year.
Both the Boeing CFT mission and AX-2 will be major milestones, Bowen said in January.
“It’s another paradigm shift,” he said. “Those two events — huge events — in spaceflight happening during our increment, on top of all the other work we get to do, I don’t think we’re going to fully be able to absorb it until after the fact.”