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SpaceX, NASA sent 3 astronauts and 1 cosmonaut to ISS

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SpaceX and NASA sent a team of astronauts from around the world on a trip to the International Space Station on Wednesday.

The mission, which includes some historic firsts, moved forward even as geopolitical tensions rose on the ground.

The four crew members — NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA, or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina — launched from the Kennedy Space Center at 12 p.m. ET aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Florida.

After reaching orbit, NASA shared footage of the crew aboard the capsule sharing their excitement as they explained that they had brought along a “freefall indicator” – a small stuffed doll in the likeness of Albert Einstein. The toy was left floating around the cabin, signaling that the team had entered a state of weightlessness.

Einstein, who first conceptualized relativity, had “the happiest thought of his entire life” when he realized that “a person in free fall feels their own weight,” Cassada explained in a broadcast aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“We live in the same world, we live in the same universe. Sometimes we experience it in very different ways than our neighbors. We can all remember that… and continue to do amazing things,” Cassada said, and Kikina could be seen pumping her fist as she spoke. “And do it together.”

Dubbed Crew-5, the mission is the sixth astronaut flight to the space station launched as a joint venture between NASA and private company SpaceX.

The space flight marks a historic moment because Mann not only became the first Indian woman to ever travel to space. She also serves as mission commander, making her the first woman to hold such a role on a SpaceX mission.

Moreover, Kikina will be the first Russian to join a SpaceX mission as part of a ride-sharing agreement between NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos signed in July. His participation in the flight is the latest clear signal that, despite rising tensions over Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, the decades-long US-Russia space partnership remains — at least for now.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft is now on a slow, precise course toward the ISS, which orbits about 200 miles (322 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. The spacecraft aims to dock with the space station around 5 PM ET on Thursday.

Sending NASA astronauts to the space station aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is nothing new. The space agency partnered with SpaceX for years to carry over the mission of ferrying people to and from the space station after NASA ended its space shuttle program in 2011.

With the return of astronaut launches from US soil, SpaceX has provided the stage for several historic firsts. For example, the Crew-4 Dragon mission featured NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, the first black woman to ever join an ISS crew.

On that flight, Mann, an enrolled member of the Wailack Tribe of the Round Valley Reservation, became the first Native American to ever go into orbit.

“I’m very proud to represent Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann told reporters before the start. “I think it’s important to celebrate our diversity and realize how important it is when we work together and connect, the incredible achievements we can have.”

In his role as commander, Mann is responsible for keeping the spacecraft on track from launch to docking with the ISS and back again when it returns home next year with four Crew-5 astronauts. Never before has a woman assumed the role of commander on a SpaceX mission, although a couple of women served in the position during the space shuttle program.

Roscosmos cosmonaut Kikina became the first Russian ever to launch a SpaceX vehicle at a time when US-Russian relations are near fever pitch over the war in Ukraine.

NASA officials have repeatedly said that joint operations with Russia on the ISS, where the two countries are the primary operators, will remain separate from the fight. Kikina’s flight comes just weeks after NASA’s Dr. Frank Rubio launched a Roscosmos Soyuz capsule to the ISS.

“I really love my teammates,” Kikina told reporters after arriving at the starting line in Florida on Saturday. “I feel really good, comfortable. … We do our work in the best way: happy.

At the press conference after the presentation, Roscosmos’ executive director of spaceflight programs, Sergei Krikalev, commented on the importance of the US-Russian partnership.

“We’re just continuing what we started years ago, in 1975, when the Apollo-Soyuz crew worked together,” Krikalev said, referring to the 1975 space encounter that became a symbol of post-Cold War U.S. cooperation. and Russia. “Now let’s get on with it.”

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

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

For Wakata, a veteran astronaut who has previously flown on both NASA’s Space Shuttle and Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, the trip will mark his fifth spaceflight mission.

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

After arriving at the ISS, the crew will join seven astronauts already aboard the ISS – including four NASA astronauts, one European Space Agency astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts.

There will be a handover period where the current ISS crew will help the newly arrived astronauts settle in before a separate Crew Dragon spacecraft brings back home the four astronauts who participated in SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission.

Crew-5 astronauts then embark on spacewalks, during which astronauts leave the ISS to maintain the exterior of the space station and perform more than 200 scientific experiments.

Experiments include printing human organs in space, understanding fuel systems that work on the moon and better understanding heart disease, according to NASA.

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