A cosmonaut, who is the only Russian to board a US spacecraft amid global tensions over the war in Ukraine, launches to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a SpaceX rocket in a mission which is the first to be led by a female commander.
Russian Anna Kikina swapped places with a NASA astronaut who boarded a Russian Soyuz flight to the ISS last month as part of a new rideshare agreement signed by NASA and Roscosmos in July.
Kikina joins Nicole Aunapu Mann, the first Indigenous woman to launch into space and the first woman to take the commanding seat of a SpaceX Crew Dragon – NASA’s Josh Cassada and the Japan Exploration Agency’s Koichi Wakata aerospace (JAXA) are also part of the historic Crew-5.
The rocket is scheduled to lift off at 12 p.m. ET and the crew is expected to dock with the ISS about 29 hours later Thursday night to begin a 150-day science mission aboard the orbiting lab about 250 miles above Earth.
NASA’s Crew-5: (left to right) NASA astronaut and commander Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata
Russian Anna Kikina (pictured) swapped places with a NASA astronaut who boarded a Russian Soyuz flight to the ISS last month She is the first Russian to fly on an American rocket since 2002
The four individuals wait patiently inside the Dragon crew capsule, dubbed Endurance, atop a Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Earlier Wednesday, they completed pre-flight steps, including stepping out of the hangar in their sleek white suits to say goodbye to friends and family.
Then the four space heroes were driven to the launch pad inside two white Tesla vehicles.
The mission marks the fifth full ISS crew aboard a SpaceX vehicle since the private rocket company founded by Elon Musk began sending American astronauts in May 2020, nearly a decade since the launch of an American rocket from American soil.
Kikina will be just the fifth Russian woman sent into space in a historically male-dominated cosmonaut corps.
“In general, for me, it doesn’t matter,” she said in a recent interview, ignoring the novelty of her stature from Roscosmos.
Crew-5 waits inside the Dragon capsule, dubbed Endurance. The countdown hasn’t started yet, but should start before the 12 p.m. launch time.
Pictured: Mission Commander Nicole Mann and Pilot Josh Cassada, along with JAXA Astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos Cosmonaut Anna Kikina
“But I realize the responsibility because I represent the people of my country.”
Commander Mann, a Marine Corps colonel and fighter pilot who has served combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, holds a master’s degree in engineering specializing in fluid mechanics.
As a registered member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, Mann would become the first Native American woman to fly in space.
The only other Native American launched into orbit was John Herrington, who flew on a shuttle mission in 2002.
The designated pilot for Wednesday’s launch is Mann’s NASA astronaut classmate and spaceflight rookie Cassada, who is a U.S. Navy aviator and test pilot with a doctorate in particle physics. at high energy.
The JAXA crew is completed by astronaut Wakata, a robotics expert who is on his fifth trip to space.
The Crew-5 team will be hosted by seven existing occupants of the ISS – the Crew-4 team made up of three Americans and an Italian astronaut – as well as two Russians and the NASA astronaut who flew with them into orbit on a Soyuz flight.
The newcomers are tasked with conducting more than 200 experiments, many of which focus on medical research ranging from 3D “bioprinting” human tissue to studying bacteria grown in microgravity.
The ISS, the length of a football field and the largest man-made object in space, has been permanently manned since November 2000, operated by a US-Russian-led consortium that includes Canada, the Japan and 11 European countries.
Russia revealed in July that it plans to withdraw from the ISS by 2024 and use its own space station.
However, days later news spread that the nation had decided to keep its cosmonauts in the orbiting lab until its own orbital outpost was built – but that won’t happen until 2028.
There are also tensions between the US and Russia amid the war with Ukraine and NASA wants no part of the rift.
Earlier Wednesday, they completed pre-flight steps, including stepping out of the hangar in their sleek white suits to say goodbye to friends and family. Then the four space heroes were driven to the launch pad inside two white Tesla vehicles
In July, NASA condemned the Russian space agency after three cosmonauts posted anti-Ukrainian propaganda on the International Space Station. They held flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic – two breakaway regions backed by Russia
Also in July, the three cosmonauts currently aboard the ISS posted anti-Ukrainian propaganda aboard the ship and NASA issued a fierce condemnation of the Russian space agency.
The trio were seen holding flags of the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic – two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine that are only recognized as independent states by Moscow and Syria .
In response to the images, released by Russian state space company Roscosmos, NASA said it “strongly condemns Russia’s use of the International Space Station for political purposes in support of its war against Ukraine”. .
NASA may be staying out of the war, but Musk isn’t keeping his opinions to himself and has shared a poll on Twitter suggesting Ukraine should stay neutral and strike a peace deal with Russia.
And Russia on Tuesday backed Musk’s “peace deal.”
The Kremlin said Tuesday it was a “positive step” for Musk to outline a peace deal, just hours later.
criticized Musk’s call for a negotiated settlement of the disastrous seven-month conflict between Russia and Ukraine.