Despite the Ukraine War, SpaceX will transport Russian Cosmonaut Anna Kikina to the International Space Station.

Kutl Ahmedia

In a symbolic flight during the Ukraine conflict, the United States will transport a Russian to the International Space Station on Wednesday on a SpaceX ship.

The Crew-5 mission, which also comprises one Japanese and two American astronauts, features Anna Kikina, the only woman in active service as a cosmonaut.

The Kennedy Space Center is scheduled to launch at noon, and the weather looks favorable so far.

A Russian Soyuz rocket carried an American astronaut to the orbital platform two weeks ago.

Despite rising tensions between the two nations since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February, the long-planned astronaut exchange program has continued.

One of the few areas of cooperation between the United States and Russia now is ensuring the operation of the ISS.

In a recent news conference, NASA assistant administrator Kathy Lueders told reporters, "When you each are flying the other country's crew members, you know that you have a significant responsibility that you're promising to the other country."

"On a working level, we really valued the relationship's consistency, especially during some really, really difficult geopolitical moments,"

One of five female cosmonauts

Kikina, a 38-year-old engineer by profession, will fly into space as the fifth Russian woman cosmonaut.

The Novosibirsk native told AFP in August that she hoped to see more women join the cosmonaut corps in the near future.

Nearly 20 years before the first American woman, Sally Ride, the Soviet Union launched Valentina Tereshkova into space in 1963. America has since flown hundreds more women.

American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada will also be making their first space mission, while Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will be making his fifth.

Their ship will land with the station on Thursday after a roughly 30-hour flight, preparing to start a five-month science mission and relieve the four members of Crew-4, who will stay for a few days for handover.

With the addition of Crew-5, there will be a total of 11 astronauts on the ISS, including two additional Russians and an American who recently arrived aboard the Soyuz.

Uncertain future of ISS

Kikina will be the first Russian to fly with Elon Musk's SpaceX, which has a "taxi service" agreement with NASA alongside Boeing.

Musk personally entered the crisis on Thursday by putting up a peace plan that included holding new annexation referendums in the parts of Ukraine that Moscow now controls under UN supervision and recognizing Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula.

Ukrainians were incensed by the tweet, including the nation's ambassador to Germany, who replied with an expletive.

Following the imposition of American sanctions against the Russian aerospace industry in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine, tensions between Moscow and Washington have significantly risen in the space sector.

So, this summer, Russia made the vague announcement that it will be leaving the ISS "after 2024" in favor of building its own station.

Sergei Krikaliov, the director of manned flights at Roscosmos, expressed hope on Monday that the Russian government will agree to continue its involvement in the ISS after 2024.

For its part, the United States intends to operate until at least 2030 before switching to commercially operated stations.

Given that the US side is in charge of power and life support and the Russian side is in charge of propulsion and orbital maintenance, the ISS cannot currently operate without collaboration from both sides.

The United States relied on Russia to transport its crew to the space station between 2011 — when the Space Shuttle program came to an end — and SpaceX's inaugural mission to the ISS in 2020, spending tens of millions of dollars per seat.

The Russian space program will experience a major income cut as a result of the loss of this monopoly. Contrarily, the present crew exchange scheme is based on barter and does not involve the exchange of money.


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