It has become a common practice for NASA astronauts to launch SpaceX rockets, but Russian astronauts still have to sail in the company’s Dragon crew capsule.
That will change on Wednesday when the Crew-5 mission takes four astronauts to the International Space Station for a half-year stay. Here’s what you need to know about the launch.
When is the launch and how can I save it?
Launch is noon Eastern time on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA Television coverage will begin at 8:30 am Eastern time and will continue the mission live aboard the space station at 4:57 pm Thursday and the welcome ceremony that follows. You can see it in the player above.
At around 9:30 am, the four astronauts started to board the Crew Dragon capsule that will carry them to orbit. Forecasters said the weather was suitable for the launch site and throughout the rocket’s flight path.
Why did NASA invite a Russian astronaut to fly in a SpaceX capsule?
Only two of the four astronauts on this flight are working for NASA: Nicole Mann, the mission commander, and pilot Josh Cassada. The other two are Koichi Wakata of Japan and Anna Kikina of Russia.
Earlier in the International Space Station program, Russian astronauts regularly flew in shuttles, and NASA astronauts flew in Russian Soyuz rockets. After the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011, the Soyuz was the only transport available to take astronauts to and from the space station.
When SpaceX’s Crew Dragon becomes operational in 2020, NASA will no longer need its astronauts to fly in the Soyuz, but they will still be able to use it. And the Russian space agency wanted astronauts to ride in Crew Dragon (as well as in a second American capsule, Boeing’s Starliner, which may be completed next year).
That is, it helps to facilitate the smooth operations of the space station, which is divided into two segments: one led by Russia and the other by NASA and its partners.
“The flight integrated crew ensures that crew members are properly trained on the station for maintenance and space requirements,” NASA said in July with Ms. Kikina was announced as a member of the Crew-5 mission.
The concern is that some utility – a serious safety issue with a fellow crew member, for example – could lead to a premature return to Earth. All members of the crew in the starships also had to return to Earth. (Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough seats on the rest of the spaceships.) If all the Russians came aboard the Russian Soyuz, then the segment the Russian space station was targeting would be exceeded.
As part of the crew exchange, NASA astronaut, Frank Rubio, will launch with two Russian astronauts on a Soyuz rocket to the space station next month.
“This kind of exchange will increase the strength of our program,” said Sergei Krikalev, executive director for human spaceflight development at Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, in a press conference on Monday. “And we will make this custom more certain to our purpose.”
Who is Anna Kikina?
Ms Kikina, 38, is currently the only female Russian astronaut. It had been training for a Soyuz flight but was transferred to a SpaceX mission when an agreement between NASA and the Russian space agency was completed. This is the first space flight.
The last female Russian astronaut to fly to the space station was Elena Serova in 2014. The most recent Russian actress, Yulia Peresild, flew to the space station in 2021 to film movie scenes.
Who are the other crew members?
Ms. Mann and Mr. Cassada was also the first aviator to orbit. Mr. Wakata, on the other hand, is a space veteran with four previous missions, including two stays on the International Space Station.
Ms. Mann, a member of the Wailacki Valley Indian Tribe Rotunda in Northern California, will be the first Native American woman from NASA to go into orbit.
Will Russia leave the International Space Station?
I was not before.
Despite tensions between the United States and Russia following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cooperation on the space station has continued. Dmitry Rogozin, the former head of Roscosmos, made belligerent claims about how Russia would leave the project, but Russia never officially announced that it would leave.
The current agreement runs through 2024. The United States has said it wants to expand its operations by 2030. Russia will build its own space station, but it has also indicated that it will not leave the ISS until it is ready.
“We know it’s not going to happen soon,” Mr. Krikalev said of Roscosmos on Monday. “So we’ll probably keep running until we have a new infrastructure that allows us to have a continuous human presence in low earth orbit.”
He added, “So now we have to fly together.”
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