A Russian cosmonaut took off on Wednesday for the United States International Space Station aboard a rocket from the American company SpaceX, a mission that is particularly symbolic amid the war in Ukraine.
Anna Kikina, the only currently active female Russian cosmonaut, is part of the crew of Crew-5, also consisting of a Japanese and two Americans, including Nicole Mann, who became the first Native American to go into space.
The takeoff took place Wednesday at noon from the Kennedy Space Center in 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 to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.
This long-planned astronaut exchange program has continued despite very high tensions between the two countries since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Ensuring the operation of the ISS thus became one of the few matters of cooperation between the United States and Russia.
Sergei Krikaliov, director of manned flights for the Russian space agency Roscosmos, was present at the Florida site for what appeared to be a charm offensive, following thunderous comments from his superiors in recent months.
During a press conference after liftoff, he hailed these joint flights as “a new phase of cooperation”, citing in particular an American-Russian spaceflight in 1975, then a symbol of detente during the Cold War.
Transporting another nation’s citizen is “an enormous responsibility,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator, said during a press conference in late September.
Asked about her current relationship with Roscomos, she said: “Operationally, we very much appreciate the consistency of the relationship, even during a very difficult geopolitical time.”
– Deliver –
Anna Kikina, 38, an engineer by training, becomes the fifth Russian professional cosmonaut to go into space. “I hope that in the near future we will have more women in the corps of cosmonauts,” she told AFP in August.
It is also the first spaceflight by American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, but the fifth by Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata.
After a journey of around 30 hours, the ship will dock at the station on Thursday, at an altitude of around 400 km.
Crew-5 members will join the seven people already on board (two Russians, four Americans and one Italian).
A few days of delivery are planned with the four members of Crew-4, before being sent back to Earth.
The crew of Crew-5 is expected to spend about five months in orbit and carry out more than 200 scientific experiments.
Anna Kikina is the first Russian to fly a Falcon 9 rocket, designed by billionaire Elon Musk’s company.
The latter interfered in the debate over the war in Ukraine on Monday, asking his Twitter followers to vote on his own suggestion for resolving the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow. The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany responded, still on Twitter, to “screw you”.
– Floating future –
Tensions between Moscow and Washington have increased considerably in the space field after the announcement of US sanctions against the Russian aerospace industry in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
The previous head of the Russian space agency had made ominous comments about a possible crash of the ISS if the Russians could no longer participate. Then, this summer, his successor said that Russia would leave the ISS “after 2024” in favor of creating its own orbital station – without setting a specific date for withdrawal.
“We will continue to fly (with) the International Space Station while our new infrastructure is under construction,” Roscosmos’ Sergei Krikaliov said Wednesday. But this construction has not yet started and, according to experts, should take many years.
Krikaliov had already said on Monday to “hope” his government would agree to extend participation in the ISS after 2024.
The Americans have announced that they want to continue operating the station until 2030.
As things stand, the ISS cannot function without one of the two segments that make it up, one American and the other Russian. The latter guarantees in particular the maintenance in orbit thanks to a propulsion system.