A cosmonaut, the only Russian to board a US spacecraft amid global tensions over the war in Ukraine, will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a SpaceX rocket in a mission that is the first to is led by a female commander.
Russia’s Anna Kikina switched seats with a NASA astronaut who took a seat aboard a Russian Soyuz flight to the ISS last month under a new carpooling agreement signed by NASA and Roscosmos in July.
Kikina joins 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 Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Koichi Wakata are also a part of the historic Crew-5.
The rocket is set to take off at 12 ET, and the crew is set to dock with the ISS about 29 hours later Thursday evening to begin a 150-day science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory 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
Russia’s Anna Kikina (pictured) swapped seats with a NASA astronaut who took her place aboard a Russian Soyuz flight to the ISS last month. She is the first Russian to fly on a US rocket since 2002
The four individuals wait patiently inside the Dragon crew capsule, called Endurance, atop a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Earlier Wednesday, the crew completed the pre-flight steps, specifically exiting the hanger in their sleek white suits to say goodbye to friends and family.
Then the four spacefaring heroes were driven to the launch pad inside two white Tesla vehicles.
The mission marks the fifth full-fledged ISS crew NASA has flown aboard a SpaceX craft since the private rocket project founded by Elon Musk began sending American astronauts into the air in May 2020, nearly a decade since a U.S. rocket was launched from American soil.
Anna Kikina (left), an engineer by training, will become the fifth Russian female professional cosmonaut to go into space and the first to board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Nicole Aunapu Mann (right), the first indigenous woman ever to launch into space and the first woman to occupy the command seat of a SpaceX Crew Dragon
Kikina will be only the fifth Russian woman sent into space in a historically male-dominated cosmonaut corps.
“In general, it doesn’t matter to me,” she said in a recent interview, shrugging off the novelty of her Roscosmos stature.
‘But I realize the responsibility for it because I represent the people of my country.’
NASA Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders told reporters at a recent press conference: ‘When you each fly other people’s crew members, you know that you have a great responsibility that you promise to the other country.
“On a working level, we really appreciated the stability of the relationship, even in some really, really tough times geopolitically.”
Commander Mann, a colonel in the Marine Corps and a fighter pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, has an engineering degree specializing in fluid mechanics.
As a registered member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, Mann will become the first Native American 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 collaborate and unite the incredible results we can achieve.”
The only other Native American sent into orbit was John Herrington, who flew on a 2002 shuttle mission.
Aerospace rookie Cassada, a U.S. Navy aviator and test pilot with a doctorate in high-energy particle physics, is the designated pilot for the launch.
Rounding out the JAXA crew is veteran astronaut Wakata, a robotics expert on his fifth trip to space.
The four individuals wait patiently inside the Dragon crew pod, called the Endurance
Pictured: Mission Commander Nicole Mann and Pilot Josh Cassada with JAXA Astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos Cosmonaut Anna Kikina
The Falcon 9 rocket stands tall on the launch pad located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida
The Crew-5 team will be welcomed by seven existing ISS residents – the Crew-4 team consisting 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 new arrivals are tasked with carrying out more than 200 experiments, many of them focused on medical research ranging from 3-D ‘bio-printing’ 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 manned since November 2000, operated by a US-Russian-led consortium that includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.
However, Russia revealed plans in July to withdraw from the ISS by 2024 and use its own space station.
Days later, news spread that the nation decided to keep its cosmonauts at the orbiting lab until their own orbital outpost is built — but that won’t happen until 2028.
There are also tensions between the US and Russia amid the war with Ukraine.
The US and allies support Ukraine, call Russia’s invasion of its neighbor ‘premeditated, unprovoked and unjustified’ and have accused Russia of war crimes.
Russian President Vladimir has accused Washington of trying to prolong the conflict in Ukraine and of fueling conflicts elsewhere in the world,
Regardless, NASA wants no part in the war or the discord between the nations.
Earlier Wednesday, they completed the pre-flight steps, specifically stepping out of the hanger in their sleek white suits to say goodbye to friends and family
Then the four spacefaring heroes were driven to the launch pad inside two white Tesla vehicles. Pictured is NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann talking with her son Jack and husband Charlie as she travels to 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 flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic – two Russian-backed separatist regions
Also in July, the three cosmonauts currently on the ISS displayed anti-Ukrainian propaganda on board the ship, and NASA issued a scathing condemnation of the Russian space agency.
The trio were seen carrying flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic – two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine that are only recognized as independent states by Moscow and Syria.
In response to the images, posted by Russia’s state space agency Roscosmos, NASA said it ‘strongly apprehends Russia using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine.’
NASA may be staying out of the war, but Musk isn’t keeping his opinions to himself, sharing a poll on Twitter that suggests 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 outlined a peace deal just hours after
criticized Musk’s call for a negotiated solution to Russia’s disastrous seven-month-old conflict with Ukraine.