In the middle of the war in Ukraine, the United States takes a Russian cosmonaut to the ISS

The United States will transport a Russian cosmonaut to the International Space Station on Wednesday aboard a SpaceX rocket, a highly symbolic mission amid the war in Ukraine.

Anna Kikina, the only Russian cosmonaut currently in active service, is part of the crew of Crew-5, also consisting of two Americans and one Japanese. This is the fifth regular mission to the Space Station (ISS) carried out by SpaceX on behalf of NASA.

Liftoff is scheduled for midday on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where the weather is expected to be mild.

Two weeks ago, an American took off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket to the ISS.

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.

Transporting another nation’s citizen is “an enormous responsibility,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator, said at a news conference in late September.

Asked about her current relationship with the Russian space agency Roscomos, she said: “Operationally, we really appreciate the consistency of the relationship, even during a very difficult geopolitical time.”

The head of the ISS at NASA, Joel Montalbano, also praised Roscosmos’ “excellent support” for these joint flights.

– Deliver –

Anna Kikina, 38, an engineer by training, will be 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 will also be the first spaceflight for American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, but the fifth for Japan’s Koichi Wakata.

After a journey of about 30 hours, your ship will dock Thursday at the Station, which is moving at an altitude of about 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.

Crew-5 is expected to spend about five months in orbit and carry out more than 200 scientific experiments, including more than 70 new ones aboard the flying laboratory.

Anna Kikina will also be the first Russian to fly a Falcon 9 rocket designed by billionaire Elon Musk’s company.

The latter interfered in discussions on Ukraine on Monday, asking his Twitter followers to vote on his own suggestion for resolving the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow. This entailed, in particular, the abandonment of Crimea to Russia. 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.

Russia thus announced this summer that it wanted to leave the ISS “after 2024” in favor of creating its own orbital station – without, however, setting a precise date for the withdrawal.

Roscosmos director of manned flights Sergei Krikaliov told him on Monday “hope” that the Russian government will agree to extend participation in the ISS beyond 2024.

The Americans have already said 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.

Between 2011 and SpaceX’s first flight to the ISS in 2020, Russia was the only one capable of transporting astronauts to the Station and charged NASA for seats aboard its rockets. The loss of this monopoly represents a significant deficit for the Russian space program.

The exchange of astronauts this year, which must be renewed in the future, is done without financial compensation.

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