This mission is highly symbolic in the midst of the war in Ukraine. The United States will carry a Russian cosmonaut to the International Space Station on Wednesday on a SpaceX rocket.
Anna Kikina, the only female Russian cosmonaut currently in active service, is part of the Crew-5 crew, which also includes two Americans and one Japanese, Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, representing NASA and Jaxa, and Koichi Wakata for the Japanese space agency.
This is the fifth regular mission to the Space Station (ISS) carried out by SpaceX – via its Falcon 9 rocket and its Crex Dragon spacecraft – on behalf of NASA.
Take-off is scheduled for noon this Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the weather forecast is good. In theory, the dismissal was supposed to take place at 18:00 Brussels time. The rocket
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A Russian cosmonaut aboard a Crew Dragon and an American astronaut aboard a Soyuz
Two weeks ago, an American took off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket to the ISS. Accompanied by cosmonauts Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitri Peteline of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Frank Rubio was the first American astronaut to go to the ISS aboard a Russian rocket since the beginning of the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, launched on February 24.
This long-planned astronaut exchange program has been maintained despite very high tensions between the two countries since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Thus, securing the operation of the ISS has become one of the very few topics of cooperation between the United States and Russia.
Transporting citizens of another nation is “a huge responsibility,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator at NASA, told a news conference in late September.
Asked about the current relationship with the Russian space agency Roscomos, she said: “Operationally, we really appreciated the coherence of the relationship, even in a very difficult time geopolitically.”
The head of the ISS at NASA, Joel Montalbano, also praised the “excellent support of Roscosmos” for these joint flights.
Transfer with the members of Crew-4
Anna Kikina, 38 and a trained engineer, will become the fifth Russian female professional cosmonaut to go into space. “I hope that in the near future we will have more women in the body of cosmonauts,” she said last August.
It will also be the first space flight for American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, but the fifth for Japan’s Koichi Wakata.
After a journey of about 30 hours, their ship docks Thursday at the International Station, which moves at an altitude of about 400 km.
Members of Crew-5 join the seven people already on board (two Russians, four Americans and one Italian).
A few days of handover is planned with the four members of Crew-4 before they are sent back to Earth.
Crew-5 will spend about five months in orbit and conduct more than 200 science experiments, including more than 70 new ones aboard the flying laboratory.
Anna Kikina will also be the first Russian to fly in a rocket designed by billionaire Elon Musk’s company.
The latter intervened in discussions about Ukraine on Monday, asking his Twitter followers to vote on his own proposal to resolve the conflict between Kiev and Moscow. In particular, this meant that Crimea was handed over to Russia. The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany responded, still on Twitter, to go “to be seen“.
Liquid future of space cooperation
Tensions between Moscow and Washington have risen significantly in the space field following the announcement of US sanctions against the Russian aerospace industry in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Thus, Russia announced this summer that it wanted to leave the ISS “after 2024” in favor of the creation of its own orbital station – without, however, setting a precise date for a withdrawal.
The director of manned flights at Roscosmos, Sergei Krikaliov, expressed to him on Monday “hope” that the Russian government will agree to extend participation in the ISS beyond 2024.
The Americans have already said that they want to continue operating the station until 2030.
As things stand, the ISS cannot function without one of the two segments that it consists of, one American, the other Russian. The latter especially ensures maintenance in orbit thanks to a propulsion system.
Between 2011 and SpaceX’s first flight to the ISS in 2020, Russia was the only one able to transport astronauts there to the station, charging NASA for seats aboard its rockets. The loss of this monopoly represents a significant shortfall for the Russian space program.
The exchange of astronauts this year, which will be renewed in the future, takes place without financial compensation.