The Next International Space Station Crew Joins SpaceX Rocket, Including a Russian Cosmonaut, for the SpaceX Rocket: Read More

The Next International Space Station Crew Joins SpaceX Rocket, Including a Russian Cosmonaut, for th ...

Despite Ukraine''s war tensions, a SpaceX rocket soared into orbit on Wednesday. The next long-term International Space Station crew is equipped with a Russian cosmonaut, two Americans and a Japanese astronaut to participate in a demonstration of US-Russian cooperation in space.

Roscosmos, a prominent official of Russia''s space agency, said shortly after the launch that the flight marked "a new phase of our cooperation" with NASA.

The SpaceX launch vehicle, which consisted of a Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon capsule called Endurance, was lowered into clear skies at noon EDT (9:30pm IST) from NASA''s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. The two-stage Falcon 9 ascended from the launch tower as its nine Merlin engines roared to life in sandstone clouds and a reddish-orange fireball.

Anna Kikina, the 38-year-old female cosmonaut on active duty with Roscosmos, has made Earth orbit the first first using a Russian in two decades. As the spacecraft entered Earth orbit, Kikina credited NASA, Roscosmos, and their international space station (ISS) partners for "giving us this amazing opportunity."

"We''re so happy to do it together," Kikina said.

Kikina, who had been training in the United States for the flight since spring 2021, was essentially changing places with a NASA astronaut who took her seat aboard a Russian Soyuz flight to the ISS last month under a new ride-sharing arrangement signed by NASA and Roscosmos in July.

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About nine minutes after Wednesday''s launch, the rocket''s upper stage delivered the Crew Dragon into a preliminary orbit as it splintered around around 16,000 miles per hour (27.000 km) the reusable lower-stage booster landed safely on a drone recovery vessel at sea.

On Thursday evening, the four crew members and their autonomously flying capsule were expected to arrive on the ISS in about 29 hours, and will embark on a 150-day science mission aboard the orbital laboratory about 250 miles (420 km) above Earth.

The crew, named Crew-5, is the fifth full-fledged ISS crew NASA has landed on a SpaceX vehicle since Tesla CEO Elon Musk began sending US astronauts aloft in May 2020.

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''''Smooth ride''''

Nicole Aunapu Mann, 45, is the first Native American woman to be sent to orbit by NASA, and the first woman to take the seat of a SpaceX Crew Dragon''s commander.

Moments after reaching orbit, mission control wished "Godspeed," Mann remarks, "awesome." Thank you so much to the Falcon team. Whew! That was a wonderful journey uphill."

Mann, a US Marine Corps colonel and combat fighter pilot, is among the first 18 astronauts selected for NASA''s next Artemis missions to return humans to the moon later this decade.

Mann''s fellow spaceflight rookie Josh Cassada, 49, a US Navy aviator and test pilot with a doctorate in high-energy particle physics was joined by Koichi Wakata, 59, a robotics expert on his fifth voyage to space.

Seven existing ISS members will join the team, including the Crew-4, who is composed of three Americans and an Italian astronaut, as well as two Russians and the NASA astronaut who flew with them to orbit on a Soyuz flight.

More than 200 experiments will be undertaken by the new arrivals, many of whom centered on medical research, from 3-D "bio-printing" of human tissue to a study of bacteria grown in microgravity.

The ISS, which spans a football field, has been continuously occupied since 2000, with a US-Russian-led coalition, comprising Canada, Japan, and 11 European nations. It was born in part to improve the relationship between Washington and Moscow following the Soviet Union''s collapse and the end of Cold War conflicts, which spurred the original American-Soviet space race.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, NASA-Roscosmos relations have been erupted, and the US has imposed major penalties on Moscow.

Sergei Krikalev, the head of human spaceflight for Roscosmos, said at a post-launch NASA-SpaceX briefing that he and agency CEO Yuri Borisov were attempting to reduce tensions after Borisov''s predecessor, Dmitry Rogozin, raised concerns about the future of the ISS partnership.

Krikalev said that bilateral collaboration in space dates back to the Apollo-Soyuz period in 1975, and that he said, "We began our cooperation many years ago, over 40 years ago, and will continue our collaboration as long as I can imagine."

The July crew-exchange agreement paved the way for resuming routine US-Russian flights to the ISS that had begun during the space shuttle period and continued until SpaceX began offering crew launch services nine years later. Soyuz was the only way to orbit for US astronauts.

Thomson Reuters 2022