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

A particularly symbolic takeoff in the midst of the war in Ukraine. A Russian cosmonaut took off on Wednesday for the International Space Station from the United States, aboard a rocket from the American company SpaceX. Anna Kikina, the only female Russian cosmonaut currently in active service, is part of the Crew-5 crew, also made up of a Japanese and two Americans, including Nicole Mann, who becomes the first Native American to go into space.

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

This long-planned astronaut exchange program has been maintained despite the 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 very few subjects of cooperation between the United States and Russia. Transporting the citizen of another nation is “a huge responsibility”, said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator at NASA, during a press conference at the end of September.

Asked about the current relationship with the Russian space agency Roscomos, she said: ÔÇťOperationally, we really appreciated the consistency of the relationship, even during a very difficult geopolitical period. The head of the ISS at NASA, Joel Montalbano, had also praised the “excellent support from Roscosmos” for these joint flights.

Five months in orbit

Anna Kikina, 38 and an engineer by training, becomes the fifth Russian female professional cosmonaut to go into space. “I hope that in the near future we will have more women in the body of cosmonauts,” she told AFP in August. It is also the first spaceflight of American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, but the fifth for Japanese Koichi Wakata. After a journey of about 30 hours, their ship will dock Thursday at the station, which is about 400 km above sea level. Members of Crew-5 will join the seven people already on board (two Russians, four Americans and one Italian).

A few days of handover are planned with the four members of Crew-4, before they are sent back to Earth. The crew of Crew-5 must spend about five months in orbit and conduct more than 200 scientific experiments, including more than 70 new aboard the flying laboratory.

Anna Kikina is the first Russian to fly in a Falcon 9 rocket, designed by billionaire Elon Musk’s company. The latter interfered in the debate on the war in Ukraine on Monday, asking his Twitter followers to vote on his own suggestion to settle the conflict between kyiv and Moscow. This implied in particular the abandonment of the Crimea to Russia. The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany replied, still on Twitter, to go “be seen”.

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