SpaceX launches four U.S., Russian, Emirati astronauts to International Space Station

Rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a crew headed to the International Space Station lifts off at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Thursday.
(John Raoux / Associated Press)

SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Thursday, including the first person from the Arab world going up for an extended months-long stay.

The Falcon rocket bolted from Kennedy Space Center shortly after midnight, illuminating the night sky as it headed up the East Coast.

Nearly 80 spectators from the United Arab Emirates watched from the launch site as astronaut Sultan Neyadi — only the second Emirati to fly to space — blasted off on his six-month mission.


Half a world away in Dubai and elsewhere across the UAE, schools and offices broadcast the launch live.

Also riding in the Dragon capsule that’s due at the space station Friday: NASA’s Stephen Bowen, a retired Navy submariner who logged three space shuttle flights; Warren “Woody” Hoburg, a former research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and space newbie; and Andrei Fedyaev, a space rookie who’s retired from the Russian air force.

“Welcome to orbit,” SpaceX Launch Control radioed, noting that liftoff occurred four years to the day after the capsule’s first orbital test flight. “If you enjoyed your ride, please don’t forget to give us five stars.”

NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman in space, ventured out Friday on her first spacewalk at the International Space Station.

Jan. 20, 2023

The first attempt to launch them was called off Monday at the last minute because of a clogged filter in the engine ignition system.

“It may have taken two times, but it was worth the trip,” Bowen said.

NASA’s space operations mission chief, Kathy Lueders, said Thursday’s launch enhanced a night sky already showcasing a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. The two planets have appeared side by side all week, seeming to grow ever closer.

“We added a bright new star to that night sky tonight,” she told reporters.

The country will focus on building its own orbiting outpost, its new space chief said amid high tensions between Moscow and the West over the fighting in Ukraine.

July 26, 2022

The space station newcomers will replace a U.S.-Russian-Japanese crew that has been up there since October. The other station residents are two Russians and an American whose six-month stay was doubled, until September, after their Soyuz capsule sprang a leak. A replacement Soyuz arrived last weekend.


Neyadi, a communications engineer, thanked everyone in Arabic and then English upon reaching orbit. “Launch was incredible. Amazing,” he said.

He had served as backup for the first Emirati astronaut, Hazzaa Mansoori, who rode a Russian rocket to the space station in 2019 for a weeklong visit. The oil-rich federation paid for Neyadi’s seat on the SpaceX flight.

The UAE’s minister for public education and advanced technology, Sarah Amiri, said the long mission “provides us a new venue for science and scientific discovery for the country.”

“We don’t want to just go to space and then not have much to do there or not have impact,” said Salem Marri, the director general of the UAE’s space center in Dubai.

The UAE already has a spacecraft orbiting Mars, and a mini-rover is hitching a ride to the moon on a Japanese lander. Two new Emirati astronauts are training with NASA’s latest astronaut picks in Houston.

Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab in space, launching aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1985. He was followed two years later by Syrian astronaut Muhammed Faris, launched by Russia. Both were in space for about a week.

Neyadi will be joined this spring by two Saudi astronauts going to the space station on a short private SpaceX flight paid for by their government.

SpaceX has launched three rich businessmen and their astronaut chaperone to the International Space Station for more than a week’s stay.

April 8, 2022

“It’s going to be really exciting, really interesting” to have three Arabs in space at once, Neyadi said last week. “Our region is also thirsty to learn more.”

He’s taking up lots of dates to share with his crew mates, especially during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, which begins this month. As for observing Ramadan in orbit, he said fasting isn’t compulsory since it could make him weak and jeopardize his mission.


Bowen, the crew’s leader, said the four have jelled well as a team despite differences among their countries. Even with the tension over the war in Ukraine, the U.S. and Russia have continued to work together on the space station and trade seats on rides there.

“It’s just tremendous to have the opportunity to fly with these guys,” Bowen said.