Cosmonaut Anna Kikina will become the first Russian crew member to launch on a US spacecraft since 2002 when she strapped into a seat aboard SpaceX’s Dragon Endurance capsule on Wednesday for a flight to the International Space Station , opening a new chapter in the US-Russian partnership in orbit that a senior Russian space agency official hopes can extend beyond the current end date of 2024, despite deteriorating relations on Earth.
Kikina, a first-time space pilot, will be seated in the right seat of the SpaceX crew capsule as it lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Falcon 9 rocket. into space with three fellow astronauts, led by Commander Nicole Aunapu Mann, a United States Marine Corps colonel and former F/A-18 test pilot who would become the first Native American woman in space and the first woman to command a mission on a Dragon spacecraft.
Navy captain and pilot Josh Cassada with a doctorate in high-energy physics will fly in the pilot’s seat inside the Dragon Endurance spacecraft. Mann and Cassada are rookie astronauts.
Veteran Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will serve as a mission specialist on the Dragon Endurance spacecraft and as a flight engineer after arriving at the space station. Wakata, seated in the left seat of the capsule for launch, prepares for his fifth trip to space, after previous flights on NASA’s space shuttle and Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. The Falcon 9 and the Dragon will be the third type of vehicle that Wakata has sent into space.
The flight, known as Crew-5, will mark the crew’s fifth operational rotational mission to the station using a SpaceX crew capsule. This is SpaceX’s eighth astronaut launch, including a 2020 demonstration mission for NASA and two fully private crew flights to low Earth orbit.
The four-person Crew-5 mission is scheduled to launch Wednesday at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT) from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The Falcon 9, flying with an all-new reusable first-stage booster, will head northeast from the launch pad over the Atlantic Ocean to line up with the space station’s orbital plane. The launch is timed around the time the Earth’s rotation brings the space station’s orbital path above the space center.
Nine kerosene-fueled Merlin 1D engines generating 1.7 million pounds of thrust will burn two and a half minutes to send the Dragon spacecraft out of the densest layers of the atmosphere. A single engine on the upper stage will accelerate astronauts into orbit before the Dragon capsule separates from the rocket about 12 minutes after liftoff.
The spacecraft will perform an automated approach to the station, culminating in docking with the lab’s Harmony module at 4:57 p.m. EDT (2057 GMT) Thursday, assuming the Crew-5 mission lifts off Wednesday.
Mann, Cassada, Wakata and Kikina will open hatches and float into the space station to join seven crew members who already live and work in the research complex.
Kikina was confirmed as the fourth crew member of the Crew-5 mission in July, when NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos finalized a ‘seat swap’ agreement allowing Russian cosmonauts to take off and land on American crew capsules and to American astronauts to fly to the space station on the Russian Soyuz missions.
The seat-sharing agreement aims to ensure that the space station is always staffed with at least one American and Russian crew member, allowing each country’s segment of the complex to remain fully operational even in the event of a major problem or delay in the American or Russian crew. spear.
The deal also aims to protect against the risk of a medical emergency forcing the evacuation of the entire crew of a Russian Soyuz or US spacecraft. If that happened, at least one American or Russian crew member would still remain on the station.
NASA astronaut Frank Rubio launched to the space station September 21 on a Soyuz spacecraft, alongside Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin.
“With the Soyuz flight and the Crew-5 flight, we will begin what we call integrated crews, or interchange flights, where a crew member from the Russian segment will fly on an American vehicle and an American will fly on a Russian vehicle,” said Sergei Krikalev, a veteran cosmonaut and executive director of human spaceflight programs at Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency.
“This type of exchange will increase the robustness of our program, and we will continue this practice to make our program more reliable,” Krikalev said.
The Biden administration announced earlier this year that it supports extending NASA’s participation in the International Space Station program through 2030. NASA’s other partners on the ISS – Canada, the Japan and the European Space Agency – should follow the lead of the United States, although these nations and agencies are still in the process of going through a formal process of expansion.
New Roscosmos chief Yuri Borisov said in July that Russia would withdraw from the International Space Station program after 2024, making headlines that NASA’s main partner on the project could leave in two years.
But Russian officials quickly clarified the statement, saying that Roscosmos would leave the International Space Station only after building an independent complex in low Earth orbit, which was not expected until 2028, in the best case scenario for the program. Russian space.
“On the Russian side, we understand that we have extended our participation in the station with our government until 2024, but we are starting to think about the design and construction of a new station,” Krikalev said on Monday. “But we know that won’t happen very soon, so we’ll probably keep flying (on the ISS) until we have new infrastructure that will allow us to maintain human presence in low Earth orbit.
“So until now, we are still flying together. We are going to fly until 2024, and I know that NASA has already made the decision (to extend until 2030) and that other international partners are discussing and are ready to make that decision,” Krikalev said.
“And we (will) start discussing expanding our participation in the ISS program with our government, and hope to have permission to continue next year,” he said.
NASA and its partners have spent more than $100 billion to build and maintain the space station since the 1990s. Its lifespan has already been extended from earlier retirement dates in 2015 and 2020.
The station was largely completed in 2011 with NASA’s final space shuttle flights. The shuttle’s retirement left Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft as the only means for crews to travel to and from the station until SpaceX’s Crew Dragon comes online in 2020 after a decade of development in partnership with The NASA.
Boeing has a commercial crew contract from NASA similar to that of SpaceX, but its Starliner crew capsule has fallen behind schedule. The first Starliner flight with astronauts is currently scheduled for February. Once the Boeing spacecraft is operational, there will be three independent vehicles capable of transporting astronauts and cosmonauts between Earth and International Space Stanton.
Mann, Cassada, Wakata and Kikina will spend approximately five months in orbit. The outgoing Crew-4 astronauts, who have been on the space station since April, will leave the complex in SpaceX’s Dragon Freedom spacecraft and head to splashdown off the coast of Florida about five or six days after the arrival of the Crew-5 mission.
The Crew-4 mission is commanded by NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, on his second flight in space. NASA Crew-4 Pilot Bob Hines, European Space Agency Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and NASA Mission Specialist Jessica Watkins will also return to Earth aboard the Dragon Freedom spacecraft.
Mann, 45, is from California and earned degrees in mechanical engineering from the US Naval Academy and Stanford University. She is registered with the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes and will soar into space with a dreamcatcher her mother gave her.
Cassada, 49, is a former Navy P-3 and P-8 pilot. He was born in San Diego and considers White Bear Lake, Minnesota his hometown.
Mann and Cassada were selected as NASA astronaut candidates in 2013, and previously assigned to train for missions on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. After the Starliner program ran into delays, NASA reassigned Mann and Cassada to a SpaceX mission so they could fly into space sooner.
Wakata has a doctorate in aerospace engineering from Kyushu University in Japan and was selected as an astronaut candidate by the Japanese space agency in 1992. The 59-year-old logged 347 days in orbit on four missions previous ones and could become the most experienced. spacecraft not originating from the United States or Russia by the end of the Crew-5 mission early next year.
Kikina is a 38-year-old engineer and the only woman currently active in the Russian cosmonaut corps. She graduated from the Novosibirsk Water Transport Academy before being selected as a cosmonaut in 2012.
She first trained to fly on a Soyuz spacecraft, then began preparing for a possible flight on a SpaceX Dragon capsule last year. She trained for several months for the Crew-5 mission before her mission was finalized in July.
“My leaders pointed at me and told me if you wanted to be part of Crew-5,” Kikina recalled. “Yes, why not! But I was so surprised. It was, for me, not planned. After that, everything started very quickly.
Kikina’s duties on the space station will include operating the European robotic arm from a control panel inside the Russian section of the outpost. She is also certified for spacewalks using Russian Orlan spacesuits, but currently has no planned spacewalks while in orbit.
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