CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A new crew arrived at the International Space Station on Friday for a six-month mission, after overcoming problems with one of the capsule’s docking hooks. Among the crew members is a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist.
The SpaceX capsule and its four astronauts had to wait 20 meters from the orbiting lab as flight controllers in California scrambled to come up with a software fix.
It’s the same problem that surfaced shortly after Thursday’s launch. While all 12 hooks on the pod appeared to be OK, the switch for one of them malfunctioned. SpaceX Mission Control urged patience and told the American, Russian and Emerati astronauts that they could stay in this watch pattern for up to two hours.
After new software commands were passed, the astronauts were given the green light to proceed. Finally, the docking occurred an hour late as the capsule and space station hovered 420 kilometers above the coast of Somalia.
“After a short scenic detour, welcome to the International Space Station,” SpaceX Mission Control radioed. NASA officials agreed on the delay added to the expectation.
The newcomers include Sultan al-Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates, the first astronaut from the Arab world to spend an extended period of time in space. Al-Neyadi is only the second person from the UAE to be launched into orbit.
“I couldn’t be happier than this, seeing old friends in space, coming together as one big family. This is the essence of space exploration,” al-Neyadi said upon entering the station. “The UAE is taking a big step towards pushing the boundaries of exploration.”
Also flying in the capsule: NASA’s Stephen Bowen, a retired Navy submariner who made three space shuttle flights, and Warren “Woody” Hoburg, an aerospace novice and former researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Andrei Fedyaev, a newcomer to the space retired from the Russian Air Force.
SpaceX launched the four astronauts for NASA early Thursday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Their flight was delayed several days by a clogged filter in an ignition fluid line.
The UAE sent its first astronaut, Hazzaa al-Mansoori, to the space station in 2019 aboard a Russian rocket. It had been decades since the first Arab launched in 1985 during the NASA shuttle era. The longest space flight of any of them lasted about a week.
A UAE space official, Hamad al-Mansoori, called the station from Dubai to wish el-Nayadi and his crew a safe and successful mission, saying it was “a huge milestone”.
The space station will accommodate 11 people for the next week.
The newcomers replace two NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut who have been on the station since October and will return next week in their own SpaceX capsule. Two other Russians and an American traveled to the station in September on a Russian Soyuz capsule that had to be replaced due to a leak, extending their mission to a full year.