SpaceX launches four new crew for six-month ISS mission

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Three American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut blasted off Sunday night from Florida for a six-month mission on the International Space Station.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 10:53 pm (0353 GMT Monday) from the Kennedy Space Center, lighting up the night sky with a long, bright plume of orange flame.

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Just minutes after the launch, as the rocket soared over the Atlantic, it was moving at a speed of 6,000 miles per hour, NASA TV commentators said.

It took about nine minutes for the capsule to settle into orbit as it prepared to dock with the ISS and relieve four other crew members.

A first attempt to launch the mission Saturday was scrubbed due to high winds.

Endeavour, the capsule that carried the three men and one woman into orbit, has already been launched four times by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The company has been providing astronaut launch services for NASA since 2020 under the US space agency’s Commercial Crew Program, with rival contractor Boeing yet to finish its certification.

Matthew Dominick, leader of the Crew-8 mission, is making his first spaceflight, as is fellow American Jeanette Epps. It will also be the first time for Russian Alexander Grebenkin.

Michael Barratt, a physician, is making his third visit to the ISS. His first two were aboard space shuttles, which were discontinued in 2011.

Space remains a rare area of cooperation between the United States and Russia since its 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The United States last month imposed fresh sanctions on 500 Russian targets, seeking also to exact a cost for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison.

Seven people are currently aboard the ISS. After an overlap of a few days, four members of the current ISS crew -- an American, a Dane and one person each from Japan and Russia -- will return to Earth in their own capsule.

The refreshed crew will carry out experiments including using stem cells to create organoids (artificially grown masses of cells resembling organs) to study degenerative diseases, taking advantage of the microgravity environment to enable three-dimensional cell growth not possible on Earth.

Joel Montalbano, ISS program manager at NASA, told reporters last week that the United States was keeping a close eye on a small leak on the Russian side of the research platform, the latest of several recent issues on the Russian side.

A hatch is currently closed to isolate the leak from the rest of the ISS.

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