MINERALS OF CAPE, Fla. –
Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX will launch the International Space Station’s next long-term crew into orbit on Wednesday, with a Russian cosmonaut accompanying two Americans and a Japanese astronaut in mission.
The SpaceX launch vehicle, which includes a Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon warhead dubbed Endurance, was prepared for takeoff at noon EDT (1600 GMT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The four-member crew will arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) about 29 hours later on Thursday night to begin a 150-day science mission aboard the orbiting lab 250 miles (420 km) from Earth. .
The mission, designated Crew-5, marks the fifth official ISS crew that NASA has flown in a SpaceX vehicle since the private rocket venture founded by Tesla boss Musk began flying. American astronauts ascending in May 2020.
SpaceX commentator Kate Tice said: “All of the spacecraft systems were up and running during a NASA web-stream of pre-flight operations about three hours before launch, and at the same time. adding that “everything is fine in terms of weather at the moment”.
Astronauts just stepped out of the space center operations building wearing white and black space suits and helmets to wave to the wise and say goodbye to loved ones before being transported taken to a launch pad a few miles away.
The latest team is led by Nicole Aunapu Mann, 45, a veteran fighter pilot who has made space flight history as the first indigenous woman sent to orbit by NASA, and is the first woman to assume the command of the SpaceX Crew.
The Crew-5 mission is also notable for the participation of 38-year-old Anna Kikina, the only female astronaut on a mission for the Russian space agency Roscosmos, making a rare flight aboard an American spacecraft. despite US-Russian tensions over the war in Ukraine. The last astronaut to fly a US rocket into orbit was in 2002 aboard the NASA space shuttle.
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Kikina is essentially swapping seats for a NASA astronaut who sat on the Russian Soyuz flight to the ISS last month under a new ride-sharing agreement signed by NASA and Roscosmos in July.
Commander Mann, a U.S. Marine colonel and a fighter pilot who has flown combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, holds a master’s degree in engineering specializing in fluid mechanics. She is also among the first group of 18 astronauts selected for NASA’s upcoming Artemis mission, which aims to return humans to the moon by the end of this decade, more than half a century after the Apollo lunar program ended.
As a registered member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indians, Mann would become the first Native American woman in space. The only Native American to be launched into orbit was John Herrington, who flew on the space shuttle mission in 2002.
The pilot assigned to Wednesday’s launch was classmate NASA astronaut Mann and spacecraft rookie Josh Cassada, 49, a U.S. Navy pilot and test pilot with a PhD. high-energy particle physicist.
Rounding out the crew from Japan’s JAXA space agency is veteran astronaut Koichi Wakata, 59, a robotics expert on his fifth trip to space.
Crew-5 will be greeted by seven ISS occupants – Crew-4 includes three Americans and an Italian astronaut – as well as two Russians and NASA astronauts who flew with them to the fund. on board Soyuz flight.
The newcomers were tasked with conducting more than 200 experiments, many of them focused on medical research, from 3-D “bioprinting” of human tissue to studying bacteria cultured in the environment. microgravity field.
The ISS, about the length of a football field and the largest man-made object in space, has been continuously occupied since November 2000, operated by a US-Russia-led coalition that includes Canada , Japan and 11 European countries.
The outpost came into existence in part to improve relations between Washington and Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War rivalries fueled the initial US-Soviet space race. The cooperation between NASA and Roscosmos has been tested like never before since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, prompting the US to impose sweeping sanctions against Moscow.
During a press conference with NASA and SpaceX on Monday, a senior Roscosmos official, Sergei Krikalev, said his agency has been approved by Moscow to continue with the ISS until 2024 and hopes the Kremlin ” allowed” to expand the partnership further, until Russia builds a new space station.
NASA hopes to keep the ISS operating with its existing partners until around 2030.
Reporting by Joe Skipper in Cape Canaveral and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington; Edited by Lincoln Feast and Will Dunham