A cosmonaut, the only Russian to board a US spacecraft amid global tensions over the war in Ukraine, launches into International Space Station (ISS) on board a SpaceX rocket in a mission led by a female commander for the first time.
Russian Anna Kikina changed places for NASA astronaut who boarded a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS last month under a new joint venture agreement signed by NASA and Roscosmos in July.
Kikina was joined by Nicole Aunapu Mann, the first Indigenous woman ever to launch into space and the first woman to occupy the command seat of a SpaceX Crew Dragon – NASA’s Josh Cassada and Japan Koichi Wakata of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is also part of the historic Crew-5 crew.
The rocket is scheduled to lift off at 12 noon CET, and the crew is expected to land on the ISS about 29 hours later Thursday night to begin a 150-day science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory about 250 miles above Earth.
NASA 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 took his seat aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS last month. She is the first Russian woman to fly on an American rocket since 2002
Four individuals wait patiently inside a Dragon crew capsule, called Endurance, atop a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Early Wednesday, the crew went through pre-flight steps, specifically walking out of the hanger in their elegant white suits to say goodbye to friends and family.
Then the four space heroes drove to the launch pad in two white Tesla vehicles.
The mission is the fifth full-fledged ISS crew that NASA has flown aboard a SpaceX vehicle since the private rocket company founded by Elon Musk began sending American astronauts into the air in May 2020, nearly a decade since the launch of an American rocket from the U.S. floor
Anna Kikina (left), an engineer by training, will become the fifth Russian professional cosmonaut to go into space and the first to board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Nicole Aunapu Mann (right), the first indigenous woman to ever launched into space, and the first woman to occupy the command seat of the SpaceX Crew Dragon
Kikina will be only the fifth Russian woman sent into space in a historically male cosmonaut group.
“In general, it’s not important to me,” she said in a recent interview, shrugging off the novelty of her position at Roscosmos.
“However, I am aware of the responsibility for this because I represent the people of my country.”
NASA Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders told reporters at a recent press conference, “When you each fly with the other’s crew members, you know you have a great responsibility that you are pledging to another country.
“On a working level, we’ve really valued the continuity in the relationship, even in some very, very difficult geopolitical times.”
Commander Mann, a Marine Corps colonel and fighter pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, has a master’s degree in engineering specializing in fluid mechanics.
As a registered member of the Wailacki Indian Tribe of Round Valley, Mannova will become the first Indian woman to fly into space.
“I’m very proud to represent Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann said. “I think it’s important to celebrate our diversity and also realize how important it is when we work together and come together, the incredible achievements we can achieve.”
The only other Native American to be launched into orbit was John Herrington, who flew on a space shuttle mission in 2002.
A spaceflight novice, Cassada, a U.S. Navy aviator and test pilot with a doctorate in high-energy particle physics, is the designated launch pilot.
Rounding out the JAXA crew is veteran astronaut Wakata, a robotics expert on his fifth trip to space.
Four individuals wait patiently in a Dragon crew capsule called Endurance
Pictured: Mission Commander Nicole Mann and pilot Josh Cassada, along with JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina
The Falcon 9 rocket stands tall on the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida
Crew-5 will be greeted by seven existing ISS passengers — Crew-4, which consists of three Americans and an Italian astronaut — plus two Russians and a NASA astronaut who flew with them into orbit on a Soyuz flight.
The new arrivals are tasked with carrying out more than 200 experiments, many of them focused on medical research, from 3-D ‘bioprinting’ of human tissue to the study of bacteria grown in microgravity.
The ISS, the length of a football field and the largest man-made object in space, has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and is operated by a US-Russia-led consortium that includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.
Russia, however, revealed plans in July to phase out the ISS by 2024 and use its own space station.
A few days later, news spread that the country had decided to keep its cosmonauts in the orbiting laboratory until its own orbital outpost was built – but that would not happen before 2028.
The tension between the US and Russia is also in the midst of a war with Ukraine.
The US and its allies support Ukraine, calling Russia’s invasion of its neighbor “deliberate, unprovoked and unjustified” and accusing Russia of war crimes.
Russian President Vladimir is accused Washington of wanting to prolong the conflict in Ukraine and fuel conflicts elsewhere in the world,
Regardless, NASA wants no involvement in war or division between nations.
They took their pre-flight steps early Wednesday, specifically walking off the hanger in their elegant white dresses to say goodbye to friends and family.
Then the four space heroes drove to the launch pad in two white Tesla vehicles. NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann is pictured talking with her son Jack and husband Charlie as she departs for Launch Complex 39A
In July, NASA condemned the Russian space agency after three cosmonauts displayed anti-Ukrainian propaganda on the International Space Station. They held the flags of the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic – two separatist regions supported by Russia.
Also in July, three cosmonauts currently on the ISS displayed anti-Ukrainian propaganda on board the ship, and NASA strongly condemned the Russian space agency.
The trio were seen carrying the flags of the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic – two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine that are backed by Russia and recognized as independent states only by Moscow and Syria.
In response to the images released by Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos, NASA said it ‘strongly reprimands Russia for using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine.’
NASA may not be getting involved in the war, but Musk isn’t keeping his opinion to himself, sharing a poll on Twitter suggesting Ukraine should stay neutral and make a peace deal with Russia.
And Russia backed Musk’s “peace deal” on Tuesday.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that it was a “positive step” that Musk had outlined a peace deal just hours after
rejected Musk’s call for a negotiated solution to Russia’s disastrous seven-month conflict with Ukraine.