AFP, published on Wednesday 05 October 2022 at 07:37
The United States will transport a Russian cosmonaut to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket on Wednesday, a highly symbolic mission amid the war in Ukraine.
Anna Kikina, the only Russian female cosmonaut currently on active duty, is part of the crew of Crew-5, also made up of two Americans and one Japanese. This is the fifth regular mission to the Space Station (ISS) carried out by SpaceX on behalf of NASA.
Liftoff is scheduled for noon Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where mild weather is expected.
Two weeks ago, an American took off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket for the ISS.
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. Ensuring the operation of the ISS has thus become one of the few issues of cooperation between the United States and Russia.
Transporting another nation’s citizen is “a huge responsibility,” NASA associate administrator Kathy Lueders said at a news conference in late September.
When asked about the current relationship with the Russian space agency Roscomos, he said: “Operationally, we really appreciate the consistency of the relationship, even during a very difficult geopolitical time.”
The head of the ISS at NASA, Joel Montalbano, also praised Roscosmos’ “excellent support” for these joint flights.
– Deliver –
Anna Kikina, 38, an engineer by training, will become the fifth Russian female professional cosmonaut to travel to space. “I hope that in the near future we will have more women in the cosmonaut corps,” she told AFP in August.
It will also be the first spaceflight for American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, but the fifth for Japan’s Koichi Wakata.
After a journey of about 30 hours, his ship will dock on Thursday at the Station, which evolves at an altitude of about 400 km.
Members of Crew 5 will join the seven people already on board (two Russians, four Americans and one Italian).
A few days of delivery with the four members of Crew-4 are planned, before they are sent back to Earth.
Crew-5 is due to spend about five months in orbit and conduct more than 200 science experiments, including more than 70 new ones aboard the flying lab.
Anna Kikina will also be the first Russian to fly on a Falcon 9 rocket designed by billionaire Elon Musk’s company.
The latter interfered in discussions on Ukraine on Monday and asked his Twitter followers to vote on his own suggestion to resolve the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow. This involved in particular the abandonment of Crimea to Russia. Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany replied, still on Twitter, that he “fuck off.”
– Floating Future –
Tensions between Moscow and Washington have increased considerably in the space field after the announcement of US sanctions against the Russian aerospace industry, in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia announced this summer that it wanted to leave the ISS “after 2024” in favor of creating its own orbital station, without setting a precise date for withdrawal.
The director of manned flights of Roscosmos, Sergei Krikalev, declared this Monday “hope” that the Russian government agrees to expand participation in the ISS after 2024.
The Americans have already said that they want to continue operating the Station until 2030.
As it is, the ISS cannot function without one of its two component segments, one American and the other Russian. The latter ensures in particular the 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 capable of transporting astronauts to the Station and charged NASA for the places on board its rockets. The loss of this monopoly represents a significant deficit for the Russian space program.
This year’s astronaut exchange, which must be renewed in the future, is carried out without financial compensation.
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