A Russian astronaut takes off aboard an American rocket, in the middle of the Ukraine war

A Russian cosmonaut took off on Wednesday, October 5, for the International Space Station from the United States, aboard a rocket from the American company SpaceX, a particularly symbolic mission in the midst of the war in Ukraine.

Anna Kikina, the only Russian female astronaut currently on active duty, is part of the Crew-5 crew, also made up of a Japanese and two Americans, including Nicole Mann, who became the first Native American to go into space.

This long-planned astronaut exchange program has been maintained despite very high tensions between the two countries since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Ensuring the operation of the Space Station (ISS) has thus become one of the few topics of cooperation between the United States and Russia. Sergei Krikalev, the director of manned flights for the Russian space agency Roscosmos, was present in Florida in what appeared to be a charm offensive, after raucous comments from his superiors in recent months.

Also read: Russia announces it will leave the International Space Station “after 2024”

At a press conference after takeoff, he hailed these joint flights as “a new phase of cooperation”, mentioning in particular a US-Russian space flight in 1975, then a symbol of detente during the Cold War. Transporting the citizen of another nation is “a great responsibility”Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA, had emphasized during a press conference in late September.

When asked about the current relationship with Roscosmos, he said: “Operationally, we really appreciate the consistency of the relationship, even during a very difficult geopolitical time. »

space transfer

Anna Kikina, 38, an engineer by training, becomes the fifth Russian female professional astronaut to travel into space. “I hope that in the near future we will have more women in the cosmonaut corps”, he told Agence France-Presse in August. It is also the first spaceflight for American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, but the fifth for Japan’s Koichi Wakata.

After a journey of about thirty hours, his ship will dock on Thursday at the station, about 400 kilometers above sea level. Members of Crew-5 will join the seven people already on board (two Russians, four Americans and one Italian).

From left to right, Japan's Koichi Wakata, Russia's Anna Kikina, and Americans Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann before blasting off for the ISS on October 5, 2022.

A few days of delivery with the four members of Crew-4 are planned, before they are sent back to Earth. Crew-5’s crew must spend about five months in orbit and conduct more than 200 science experiments. This is the fifth regular mission to the ISS being carried out by SpaceX on behalf of NASA. Anna Kikina is the first Russian to fly on a Falcon-9 rocket, designed by billionaire Elon Musk’s company.

The latter interfered in the debate on the war in Ukraine on Monday, asking his Twitter followers to vote on his own suggestion to resolve the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow. The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany responded, still on Twitter, to go “to be seen”.

future on hold

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 threatening comments about a possible ISS accident if the Russians could no longer participate. Then this summer his successor said Russia would leave the ISS. “after 2024”in favor of the creation of its own orbital station, without setting a precise date for withdrawal.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers After the announcement of the Russian withdrawal, what future for the International Space Station?

“We will continue to fly [avec] the International Space Station while our new infrastructure is under construction.”said Sergei Krikalev of Roscosmos on Wednesday. But this construction has not yet started and, according to experts, it should take many years. The Americans have announced that they want to continue operating the station until 2030.

As it is, the ISS cannot function without one of its two component segments, one American and the other Russian. The latter ensures in particular the maintenance in orbit thanks to a propulsion system.

The world with AFP

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