SpaceX launched a crew of four on a NASA mission to the International Space Station, including a Russian cosmonaut and the first Native American woman to travel to space.
The blast-off, scheduled for noon local time Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, followed a series of delays that had pushed back the launch by several weeks. The astronauts are traveling aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon — the sixth time the space agency has relied on Elon Musk’s company to transport NASA personnel and international partners to the space station since Dragon’s inaugural crewed mission in May of 2020.
The multinational crew’s arrival at the station — planned for Thursday after a 29-hour journey — will begin a six-month-long stay in orbit. They include two NASA astronauts: Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann, a member of one of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California, along with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Anna Kikina from Russia.
Kikina’s presence marks the first time a Russian cosmonaut has traveled to orbit on a Dragon spacecraft. Since SpaceX began launching crews to the ISS, NASA and Russia’s state space corporation Roscosmos have been working together on a crew-swap agreement. That has continued even as relations have deteriorated in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In July, NASA decried the actions of three Russian cosmonauts aboard the ISS, who posed for pictures with flags considered to be anti-Ukraine propaganda. But the two sides have pushed forward and on Sept. 21, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio traveled to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz, along with two cosmonauts.
SpaceX CEO Musk stirred geopolitical tensions ahead of the launch with tweets earlier this week calling for a negotiated settlement between Ukraine and Russia. The unsolicited tweets outraged diplomats in Ukraine.
The flight, called Crew-5, is the latest under a contract with NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA has tapped SpaceX to fly as many as 14 crewed missions to the ISS in a deal worth about $4.9 billion.
NASA’s second Commercial Crew provider, Boeing Co., has yet to fly people to space on its craft, the CST-100 Starliner. Boeing is targeting February for its first crewed test flight to the orbiting lab.
Crew-5 has taken longer than anticipated to get off the ground. NASA already had pushed back the flight from early September to give SpaceX more time to repair hardware on the company’s resuable Falcon 9 rocket for the mission. This particular rocket, which hasn’t been flown before, was damaged during transport when it collided with a bridge.
The booster successfully landed on a drone ship at sea about 10 minutes after the launch.
The flight was delayed again last week as NASA’s Kennedy Space Center braced for Hurricane Ian. The storm also forced NASA to roll back its massive Space Launch System moon rocket to its hangar, further slowing that rocket’s debut flight, a project unrelated to Wednesday’s ISS mission.
The Dragon plans to dock with the ISS on Thursday at 4:57 p.m. East Coast time. Astronauts now living on board the ISS, including those who launched to the station in April, intend to greet the new arrivals when the capsule’s hatch opens about one hour and 45 minutes later.
The Crew-4 astronauts are slated to return back to Earth later this month in their own Dragon capsule which has been attached to the space station since their arrival.
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