A SpaceX rocket takes off from Florida with a Russian cosmonaut on board

A SpaceX rocket takes off from Florida with a Russian cosmonaut on board

A particularly symbolic departure in the middle of the war in Ukraine. A Russian cosmonaut took off for the International Space Station from the United States on Wednesday on a rocket owned by the American company SpaceX. The only Russian female cosmonaut currently in active service, Anna Kikina is part of the Crew-5 crew, which consists of one Japanese and two Americans, including Nicole Mann, the first Native American to go into space.

Takeoff took place Wednesday afternoon from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This is the fifth regular mission to the Space Station (ISS) by SpaceX on behalf of NASA. Two weeks ago, an American took off for the ISS on a Russian Soyuz rocket.

This long-planned astronaut exchange program has continued despite very high tensions between the two countries since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February. Ensuring the operation of the ISS has thus become one of the few issues of cooperation between the US and Russia. NASA’s deputy administrator, Kathy Lueders, said at a news conference at the end of September that transporting a citizen of another nation was a “big responsibility”.

When asked about the current relationship with the Russian space agency Roscomos, he said: “Operationally, we really appreciated the consistency of the relationship even in a very difficult geopolitical period. Joel Montalbano, head of the ISS at NASA, also praised “Roscosmos’ excellent support” for these joint flights.

Five months in orbit

Anna Kikina, 38, a trained engineer, became the fifth Russian female professional cosmonaut in space. “I hope in the near future there will be more women in the bodies of cosmonauts,” she told AFP in August. It’s also the first spaceflight for American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, but the fifth for Japanese Koichi Wakata. After a journey of about 30 hours, the ships will dock at the station, which is about 400 km above sea level, on Thursday. Crew-5 members will join the seven people currently on board (two Russians, four Americans and an Italian).

With four members of Crew-4, a handover of several days is scheduled before being sent back to Earth. Crew-5 crews must spend about five months in orbit and conduct more than 200 scientific experiments, including more than 70 new flying laboratories.

Anna Kikina is the first Russian to fly a Falcon 9 rocket designed by billionaire Elon Musk’s company. Second, he intervened in the debate on the war in Ukraine on Monday, prompting his Twitter followers to vote on his proposal to resolve the dispute between Kyiv and Moscow. This meant, in particular, the cession of Crimea to Russia. Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany still responded to “appear” on Twitter.

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