NASA's SpaceX Crew 6 mission launches to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Reuters -- Elon Musk's rocket company SpaceX launched a four-person crew to the International Space Station early on Thursday, with a Russian cosmonaut and United Arab Emirates astronaut joining two NASA crewmates on the flight.
The SpaceX launch vehicle, consisting of a Falcon 9 rocket topped with an autonomously operated Crew Dragon capsule called Endeavour, was lifted off at 12: 34 a.m. EST 0534 GMT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
A live NASA webcast showed the 25-story-tall spacecraft ascending from the launch tower as its nine Merlin engines roared to life in billowing clouds of vapor and a reddish fireball that lit up the pre-dawn sky.
The Crew Dragon's orbital velocity was expected to be increased by 17,500 miles per hour, 28,164 kph more than 22 times the speed of sound.
The flight was delayed 72 hours after an initial launch attempt was scrubbed early on Monday due to a clog in the flow of engine-ignition fluid. NASA said the problem was fixed by replacing a clogged filter and purging the system.
The mission to the International Space Station ISS, a laboratory orbiting some 250 miles 420 km above Earth, is expected to take about 25 hours, with rendezvous planned for about 1: 15 a.m. on Friday as the crew begins a six-month science mission in microgravity.
The sixth long-term ISS team NASA has flown aboard SpaceX since the private rocket venture founded by Musk billionaire CEO of electric car maker Tesla and social media platform Twitter began sending American astronauts to orbit in May 2020.
The ISS crew was led by mission commander Stephen Bowen, 59, a one-time U.S. Navy submarine officer who has logged more than 40 days in orbit as a veteran of three space shuttle flights and seven spacewalks.
The first spaceflight was made by NASA astronaut Warren Woody Hoburg, 37, an engineer and commercial aviator designated as the Crew 6 pilot.
The Crew 6 mission is notable for its inclusion of UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, 41, the second person from his country to fly to space and the first to launch from U.S. soil as part of a long-duration space station team. In 2019, the UAE's first astronaut launched from a Russian spacecraft.
Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev, 42, was among the four-man Crew 6 crew who, like Alneyadi, is an engineer and spaceflight rookie who has been designated as a mission specialist for the team.
Fedyaev is the second cosmonaut to fly aboard an American spacecraft under a renewed ride-sharing agreement signed by NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos in July despite heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Crew 6 team will be welcomed aboard the space station by seven current ISS occupants -- three U.S. NASA crew members, including Commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, the first Native American woman to fly to space, along with three Russians and a Japanese astronaut.
The ISS, which has a length of a football field, has been operated by a U.S.-owned consortium that includes Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries for more than two decades.
The Crew 6 mission follows a series of mishaps in which Russian spacecraft docked to the orbiting laboratory sprang coolant leaks which apparently caused micrometeoroids, tiny grains of space rock, streaking through space and striking the craft at high velocity.
One of the affected Russian vehicles was a Soyuz crew capsule that carried two cosmonauts and an astronaut to the space station in September for a six month mission now set to end in March. An empty replacement Soyuz to bring them home arrived at the space station on Saturday.