Russian Cosmonaut and the Next International Space Station Crew Board a SpaceX Rocket and Reach Orbit: Every Detail

Kutl Ahmedia

With a Russian cosmonaut, two Americans, and a Japanese astronaut flying together in space amid concerns related to the Ukraine crisis, a SpaceX rocket sent the next long-term International Space Station crew into orbit from Florida on Wednesday.

Soon after the launch, a senior representative of the Russian space agency Roscosmos stated that the mission signaled "a new phase of our collaboration" with NASA.

At noon EDT (9:30pm IST), the SpaceX launch vehicle—a Falcon 9 rocket atop a Crew Dragon capsule named Endurance—launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral under clear skies. The nine Merlin engines of the two-stage, 23-story-tall Falcon 9 screamed to life, sending up billowing clouds of vapor and a reddish-orange blaze as it lifted off from the launch tower.

The fact that the mission will feature 38-year-old Anna Kikina, the only female cosmonaut currently serving on active duty with Roscosmos, will make it the first Russian-led space mission launched from US land in 20 years. Kikina thanked NASA, Roscosmos, and its International Space Station (ISS) colleagues via radio as the spacecraft entered Earth orbit for "offering us this tremendous opportunity."

Kikina said, "We're really happy to accomplish it together.

According to a new ride-sharing agreement negotiated by NASA and Roscosmos in July, Kikina, who had trained in the US for the journey since spring 2021, was essentially swapped out for a NASA astronaut who took her seat aboard a Russian Soyuz voyage to the International Space Station last month.

The rocket's top stage put the Crew Dragon into a preliminary orbit around nine minutes after launch on Wednesday as it raced through space at almost 16,000 miles per hour (27,000 kph). The reusable lower-stage booster returned to Earth on its own and successfully touched down on a drone rescue ship at sea.

On Thursday evening, the four crew members and their self-flying capsule were scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) in about 29 hours to start a 150-day science mission there. The ISS is located 250 miles (420 km) above Earth.

The Crew-5 mission, the fifth full-fledged ISS crew NASA has flown on a SpaceX craft since the private rocket company founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk started launching US astronauts into orbit in May 2020, is known for its innovative technology.

Smooth riding

The group was headed by Nicole Aunapu Mann, a 45-year-old Native American who made history as the first woman and the first person of color to command a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

As soon as the crew was in orbit, mission control wished them well "Mann radioed back, "Godspeed, awesome. The Falcon team is greatly appreciated. Whew! It was a comfortable ascent."

Mann, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and a combat fighter pilot, was also chosen to be among the first 18 astronauts for NASA's forthcoming Artemis missions, which will attempt to send people back to the moon later this decade.

The designated pilot was 49-year-old Josh Cassada, a U.S. Navy test pilot and aviator with a degree in high-energy particle physics. He was Mann's fellow first-time spaceflight rookie. Koichi Wakata, a 59-year-old robotics expert on his fifth trip to space, completed the crew from Japan's space agency, JAXA.

Seven current ISS residents will greet the crew, including the Crew-4 team, which consists of three Americans and an Italian astronaut, two Russians, and the NASA astronaut who traveled to orbit on a Soyuz voyage.

More than 200 experiments will be carried out by the newcomers, many of which are aimed at medical research. These investigations range from the 3-D "bio-printing" of human tissue to a study of bacteria cultured in microgravity.

Since 2000, the football field-length ISS has been continually occupied by a US-Russian collaboration that also includes Canada, Japan, and 11 European nations. After the Soviet Union fell apart and the Cold War rivalry that gave rise to the initial American-Soviet space race came to an end, it was created in part to mend relations between Washington and Moscow.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February and the US levied severe sanctions against Moscow, relations between NASA and Roscosmos have been put to the test.

After Dmitry Rogozin, Yuri Borisov's predecessor, raised concerns about the longevity of the ISS cooperation, Sergei Krikalev, head of human spaceflight for Roscosmos, said he and Borisov were trying to diffuse the situation at a post-launch NASA-SpaceX briefing on Wednesday.

"We started our cooperation many years ago, over 40 years ago, and will continue our cooperation as long as I can foresee," said Krikalev, citing international cooperation in space stretching back to the Apollo-Soyuz era in 1975.

The July crew-exchange agreement prepared the way for the restart of common US-Russian trips to the ISS, which had started during the space shuttle era and continued after the shuttles' final voyage in 2011. From that point on, Soyuz was the only way for US astronauts to reach orbit until SpaceX started providing crewed launch services nine years later.


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