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SpaceX and NASA are about to launch a crew of astronauts from around the world for a trip to the International Space Station.
The mission, which will include historic firsts, is moving forward even as growing geopolitical tensions brew on the ground.
The four crew members – astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA, astronaut Koichi Wakata of JAXA, or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and cosmonaut Anna Kikina of Roscosmos – are on the right track to launch aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at 12 p.m. ET Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If bad weather or other issues interfere, teams could try again Thursday at 11:38 a.m. ET.
A live broadcast on NASA’s website began just after 8:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday. NASA will also broadcast a post-event briefing, tentatively scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET, to discuss the launch.
Dubbed Crew-5, the mission is the sixth astronaut flight launched as part of a joint venture between NASA and SpaceX, a private aerospace company, to the space station.
The upcoming spaceflight marks a historic moment, as Mann will not only become the first Native American woman to travel to space. She will also serve as mission commander, making her the first woman to assume such a role for a SpaceX mission.
Additionally, Kikina will be the first Russian to join a SpaceX mission under a rideshare agreement between NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, signed in July. His participation in the flight is the latest clear signal that, despite growing tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the decades-long US-Russian partnership will persist – at least for now.
After the scheduled launch on Wednesday, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will separate from the SpaceX rocket propelling it into orbit and begin a slow, precise journey to the ISS, which orbits about 200 miles (322 kilometers) above the surface. of the earth. The spacecraft aims to dock with the space station Thursday around 5 p.m. ET.
Launching NASA astronauts to the space station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is nothing new. The space agency worked with SpaceX for years to shift the task of shuttling to and from the space station after NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011.
With the return of astronaut launches from American soil, SpaceX has provided the stage for several historic firsts. The Crew-4 Dragon mission, for example, carried NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, the first black woman to join the ISS crew.
On this flight, Mann, a registered member of the Wailacki Tribe of the Round Valley Reservation, will become the first Native American woman to fly into orbit.
“I take great pride in representing Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann said. “I think it’s important to celebrate our diversity and realize how important it is to collaborate and come together, the incredible accomplishments we can have.”
In his role as commander, Mann will be responsible for ensuring the spacecraft is on track from launch to docking with the ISS and again when it returns home with the four crew-member astronauts. 5 next year. Never before has a woman taken on the role of commander on a SpaceX mission, although a few women held the position during the Space Shuttle program.
Kikina, the Roscosmos cosmonaut, will become the first Russian to launch on a SpaceX vehicle at a time when US-Russian relations grow closer fever during the Ukrainian war.
But NASA officials have repeatedly said joint operations with Russia on the ISS, where the two countries are primary operators, will remain isolated from the fray. Kikina’s flight comes just weeks after NASA’s Dr. Frank Rubio launched to the ISS aboard a Roscosmos Soyuz capsule.
“I really like my teammates,” Kikina told reporters after arriving at the Florida launch site on Saturday. “I feel really good, comfortable. … We will do our job in the best way: happy.
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Mann and fellow NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, who grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, both joined NASA in 2013. Cassada described Mann as one of his “closest friends on the planet.”
As with Mann, this mission will be the first space trip for Cassada and Kikina.
For veteran astronaut Wakata, who has previously flown on NASA’s space shuttle and Russian Soyuz spacecraft, this trip marks his fifth spaceflight mission.
“I still remember the first time I got on a plane and saw our beautiful home planet,” he recalled at a press conference in August. “It was such a wonderful, such a beautiful planet, so I felt very lucky to be able to call this planet our home.”
After reaching the ISS, the crew will join the seven astronauts already aboard the ISS, including four NASA astronauts, one European Space Agency astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts.
There will be a transfer period, where the current ISS crew will help newly arrived astronauts settle in before a separate Crew Dragon spacecraft brings back the four astronauts who were part of SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission. at home.
Then the Crew-5 astronauts will get to work performing spacewalks, during which the astronauts exit the ISS, to maintain the exterior of the space station, as well as performing more than 200 scientific experiences.
“Experiments will include studies of how human organs imprint in space, understanding fuel systems operating on the Moon, and better understanding heart disease,” according to NASA.
Crew-5 is expected to return from space in about five months.
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