Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX launched the International Space Station’s next long-duration crew for NASA on Wednesday, including a cosmonaut, along with two Americans and a Japanese astronaut.
The SpaceX launch vehicle, consisting of a Falcon 9 rocket topped with a Crew Dragon capsule dubbed the Endurance, blasted off in clear skies at noon local time (1600 GMT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
A NASA live feed of liftoff showed the Falcon 9 ascending from the launch tower as its nine Merlin (BME: MRL ) engines roared.
Within minutes of launch, the rocket’s upper stage was ready to carry Crew Dragon into a preliminary orbit. The lower-stage reusable rocket, meanwhile, is designed to return to Earth and land on a drone recovery ship floating in the sea.
The four crew members and their autonomous flight capsule should arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) some 29 hours later, on Thursday night, to begin a 150-day science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory, about 420 kilometers above the Earth.
The mission, designated Crew-5, marks the fifth full ISS crew NASA has flown aboard a SpaceX vehicle since the private rocket company founded by Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA ) owner Musk began sending astronauts . Americans into space in May 2020.
The new team is led by Nicole Aunapu Mann, 45, a veteran fighter pilot who makes spaceflight history by being the first indigenous woman sent into orbit by NASA and the first woman to occupy the seat of commander of a SpaceX Crew Dragon.
The Crew-5 mission also stands out for the inclusion of Anna Kikina, 38, the only active female cosmonaut of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, who thus makes a flight aboard an American spacecraft, something unusual in the context of growing tensions between the United States and Russia over the war in Ukraine. The last cosmonaut to ride a US rocket into orbit was in 2002 on a NASA space shuttle.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
Kikina is swapping places with a NASA astronaut who took her seat aboard a Russian Soyuz flight to the ISS last month, under a new ride-sharing agreement signed by NASA and Roscosmos in July.
Commander Mann, a colonel in the United States Marine Corps and a fighter pilot who flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, has a master’s degree in engineering specializing in fluid mechanics. She is also part of the first group of 18 astronauts selected for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions, which aim to return humans to the Moon later this decade, more than half a century after the Apollo lunar program ended.
As a registered member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, Mann will become the first Native American woman to fly in space. The only other Native American launched into orbit was John Herrington, who flew on a shuttle mission in 2002.