A Russian cosmonaut boards a SpaceX flight as part of the next space station crew

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, Oct 5 (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s SpaceX was scheduled to launch its next long-duration crew of the International Space Station into orbit on Wednesday, with a Russian cosmonaut on a flight with Americans and a Japanese. An astronaut as part of the mission.

The SpaceX launch vehicle, consisting of a Falcon 9 rocket topped by a Crew Dragon capsule called Endurance, was scheduled to take off at noon EDT (1600 GMT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The crew of four should arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) about 29 hours after Thursday evening to begin a 150-day science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory 250 miles (420 km) above Earth.

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The mission, designated Crew-5, is the fifth full ISS crew flown by NASA aboard the SpaceX craft since the private rocket project co-founded by Tesla Musk began sending American astronauts aloft in May 2020.

The latest team is led by Nicole Onapo Mann, a veteran fighter pilot who made spaceflight history as the first Indigenous woman to be sent by NASA into orbit and the first woman to hold the seat of the SpaceX Crew Dragon pilot.

The Crew-5 mission is also noteworthy for including Anna Kekina, 38, the only active-duty astronaut for the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and the only Russian not yet to fly aboard a US spacecraft amid global tensions over the war in Ukraine. He was the last astronaut to put a US rocket vehicle into orbit in 2002 on a NASA space shuttle.

From Russia with love

Kikina is essentially exchanging places with a NASA astronaut who sat in her seat on a Russian Soyuz flight bound for the International Space Station last month under a new ride-sharing agreement signed by NASA and Roscosmos in July.

Kekina will be the fifth Russian woman to be sent into space as a historically male-dominated cosmonaut.

“In general, for me, it does not matter,” she said in a recent interview, ignoring the novelty of her position at Roscosmos. “But I understand the responsibility for that because I represent the people of my country.”

Commander Mann, 45, a US Marine Corps colonel and combat pilot who has conducted combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, has a master’s degree in engineering specializing in fluid mechanics.

As a registered member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, Mann will become the first Native American woman to fly into space. The only other Native American ever launched into orbit was John Herrington, who flew on a shuttle mission in 2002.

The pilot designated for Wednesday’s launch is fellow NASA MAN astronaut and junior spaceflight partner Josh Cassada, 49, a US Navy pilot and test pilot with a Ph.D. in high-energy particle physics.

Among JAXA’s crew is veteran astronaut Koichi Wakata, 59, a robotics expert making his fifth trip into space.

The Crew-5 team will be welcomed by seven ISS passengers – the Crew-4 team of three Americans and an Italian astronaut – as well as two Russians and the NASA astronaut who flew with them into orbit on the Soyuz flight.

Newcomers have been commissioned to run more than 200 experiments, many of them focused on medical research ranging from 3D “bio-printing” of human tissue to studying bacteria cultured in microgravity.

ISS, the length of a football field and the largest artificial object in space, has been continuously occupied since November 2000, and is run by a consortium led by the United States and Russia that includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.

The outpost was born in part to improved relations between Washington and Moscow in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War rivalries that spurred the original space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

But cooperation between NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos has been tested like never before since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, prompting the Biden administration to impose sweeping sanctions on Moscow.

During a press conference with NASA and SpaceX on Monday, a senior Roscosmos official, Sergey Krikalev, said his agency had obtained Moscow’s approval to remain on the International Space Station until 2024 and hoped to obtain the Kremlin’s “permission” to expand the partnership further, so that Russia would build . New space station.

NASA hopes to keep the International Space Station operating with its current partners until about 2030.

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(Joe Skipper reports on Cape Canaveral); Writing and Additional Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Joey Rowlett in Washington. Edit Lincoln Fest

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