The liftoff is scheduled to take place from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, at 03:50 local Friday (07:50 GMT), aboard a Falcon 9 rocket of billionaire Elon Musk's company. The weather looks 90% favorable, but in case of impediment a fallback shooting window is possible Saturday.

Powered by the rocket, the Dragon capsule in which the four passengers will travel is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) after a journey of about a day. The crew will then stay for about six months aboard this flying laboratory, where they will carry out multiple scientific experiments.

Dubbed Crew-7, the mission is commanded by American astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli, 40, whose first trip to space will be.

"What I'm most looking forward to is looking at our planet from above," the Iranian-born MIT graduate told a news conference last month. "Everyone I've spoken to who has ever flown said it was a life-changing point of view."

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andreas Mogensen and Japanese Agency (Jaxa) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa have both visited the ISS -- albeit for only ten days for the former.

It will also be the first flight of Russian Konstantin Borisov, who said he was looking forward to "this adventure" after "very intense training".

A few days of handover

Despite heightened diplomatic tensions between Washington and Moscow since the start of the war in Ukraine, collaboration between the US and Russian space agencies continues on the ISS -- one of the few topics of cooperation still ongoing between the two countries.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket waits before liftoff for the Crew-7 mission, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on August 23, 2023 © Joel KOWSKY/NASA/AFP

The program of exchanging passengers on board the rockets of both countries has also been maintained: two other Russian cosmonauts have already traveled with SpaceX, as part of the Crew-5 and Crew-6 missions.

American astronauts have also recently flown with Soyuz spacecraft, and the next Russian mission carrying an American is scheduled for September.

This weekend, the crew of Crew-7 will join the seven passengers already currently aboard the ISS, which has been permanently inhabited for more than 20 years.

After a few days of handover with the Crew-6 crew (two Americans, a Russian and an Emirati), it will descend to Earth aboard another SpaceX capsule.

This is the seventh regular mission to the ISS carried out by SpaceX on behalf of NASA -- not counting a test mission that also carried two astronauts.

NASA has also contracted with Boeing to develop a second American means of transport to the ISS. But Boeing's program has suffered countless delays, and the first manned test flight is now not scheduled until after March 2024.

© 2023 AFP