BAIKONUR COSMODROME, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Russian Soyuz spacecraft took off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan toward the International Space Station on Wednesday carrying a crew of three, including the first UAE astronaut.
Emirati astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori, Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and NASA flight engineer Jessica Meir are due to dock at the space station about six hours later.
AlMansoori, 35, a former fighter pilot, will spend eight days aboard the station, becoming the first Arab to visit the giant science lab orbiting the earth.
He plans to conduct a series of experiments, conduct several live space-to-earth sessions and host a night of food in the Emirates wearing traditional national clothing, UAE officials said.
Hours before launch, AlMansoori, along with teammates, received a blessing from a Russian Orthodox priest, according to Russian space tradition, although unlike the other two, he was spared from being sprinkled with holy water.
Smiling, AlMansoori made a Winston Churchill-style V-shaped sign as he stood on the stairs leading to the elevator, which led the crew to the pod.
The arrival of the new team will increase ISS staff to nine – for the first time in four years – until AlMansoori and two astronauts from a previous expedition return to Earth on October 3.
Report by Shamil Zhumatov; Written by Olzhas Auyezov Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean
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