SpaceX will launch 4 astronauts on NASA’s next mission

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SpaceX and NASA will launch a crew of astronauts from around the world on a journey to the International Space Station.

The mission, which will include some historic firsts, is going ahead even as geopolitical tensions on the ground are rising.

The four crew members — astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA, astronaut Koichi Wakata of JAXA, or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and cosmonaut Anna Kikina of Roscosmos — are on track to launch aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at 12 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If weather or other issues prevent it, teams can try again on Thursday at 11:38 a.m. ET.

The live broadcast on NASA’s website started from 08:30 on Wednesday. NASA will also hold a post-event briefing, tentatively scheduled for 1:30 PM ET, to discuss the launch.

Dubbed Crew-5, the mission is the sixth mission launched by NASA and private aerospace company SpaceX to the space station.

The upcoming space flight marks a historic moment, as Mann will not become the first American woman to travel to space. She will also serve as mission commander, becoming the first woman to assume such a role for a SpaceX mission.

What’s more, Kikina will be the first Russian to board a SpaceX mission as part of the ride-sharing agreement signed by NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos in July. Its participation in the flight is the latest clear sign that, despite rising tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the decades-old US-Russian partnership in space will endure, at least for now.

After Wednesday’s scheduled launch, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will separate from the SpaceX rocket that propels it into orbit and begin its slow, precise journey to the ISS, which orbits about 200 miles (322 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. The spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the space station around 5:00 PM ET on Thursday.

NASA astronauts arriving at the space station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is nothing new. The space agency partnered with SpaceX for years to ferry people to and from the space station after NASA retired the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

With the return of astronaut launches from US soil, SpaceX has provided a stage for several historic debuts. The Crew-4 Dragon mission, for example, carried NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, the first black woman to join the crew of the ISS.

On this flight, Mann, a member of the Wailacki tribe on the Round Valley Reservation, will become the first American woman to travel into orbit.

“I’m very proud to represent Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann said. “I think it’s important to celebrate our diversity and also how important it is to collaborate and when we come together, the incredible achievements we can have.”

As commander, Mann will be responsible for ensuring the spacecraft from launch to docking with the ISS and returning home next year with four astronauts, Crew-5. No woman has ever assumed the role of commander of a SpaceX mission, although a couple of women served in that position in the space shuttle program.

Kikina, a Roscosmos cosmonaut, will become the first Russian to launch aboard a SpaceX vehicle at a time when US-Russian relations are on the verge. Ukraine war fever.

But NASA officials have repeatedly said joint operations with Russia on the ISS, where both countries are the main operators, will remain insulated from combat. Kikina’s flight comes just weeks after NASA’s Dr. Frank Rubio launched to the ISS in a Roscosmos Soyuz capsule.

“I really love my teammates,” Kikina told reporters after arriving at Florida’s shooting range on Saturday. “I feel really good, comfortable. … We will do our job best: happy.”

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Mann and fellow NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, who grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, both joined NASA in 2013. Cassada has described Mann as “one of my closest friends on the planet.”

As with Mann, this mission will be Cassada and Kikina’s first trip into space.

For veteran astronaut Wakata, who has previously flown on both NASA’s space shuttle and Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, this trip marks his fifth spaceflight mission.

“I still remember the first time I flew and saw our beautiful hometown,” he recalled at a press conference in August. “It was such a wonderful, such a beautiful planet, then I felt so lucky to be able to call this planet our home.”

After arriving at the ISS, the crew will join the seven astronauts already on the ISS, four NASA astronauts, an astronaut from the European Space Agency and two Russian cosmonauts.

There will be a handover period where the current ISS crew will help the newly arrived astronauts acclimate before a separate Crew Dragon spacecraft returns home the four astronauts who were part of SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission.

Crew-5 astronauts will then begin spacewalks, during which astronauts leave the ISS to maintain the space station’s exterior, as well as conduct more than 200 science experiments.

“Experiments to print human organs in space, to understand fuel systems that work on the Moon, and to better understand heart disease,” according to NASA.

Crew-5 will return from space in about five months.