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

Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina all smiles before her takeoff to the International Space Station on October 5, 2022.

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 mission which is particularly symbolic in the midst of the war in Ukraine.

Anna Kikina, the only female Russian cosmonaut 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 the very high tensions between the two countries since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Ensuring the operation of the ISS has thus become one of the very few subjects of cooperation between the United States and Russia. Sergei Krikaliov, the director of manned flights for the Russian space agency Roscosmos, was present on site in Florida for what seemed to be akin to a charm offensive, after thunderous remarks from his superiors in recent months.

Read also: Russia announces it will leave the International Space Station “after 2024”

At a press conference following take-off, he hailed these joint flights as “a new phase of cooperation”, mentioning in particular an American-Russian space flight in 1975, then a symbol of detente during the Cold War. Transporting the citizen of another nation is “a huge responsibility”had underlined during a press conference at the end of September Kathy Lueders, associate administrator at NASA.

Asked about the current relationship with Roscomos, she said: “Operationally, we really appreciated the consistency of the relationship, even during a very difficult time geopolitically. »

Spatial handover

Anna Kikina, 38 and an engineer by training, becomes the fifth Russian female professional cosmonaut to go into space. “I hope that in the near future we will have more women in the body of cosmonauts”she declared in August to Agence France-Presse.

It is also the first spaceflight of American astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, but the fifth for Japanese Koichi Wakata.

After a journey of about 30 hours, their ship will dock at the station on Thursday, at an altitude of about 400 km. Members of Crew-5 will join the seven people already on board (two Russians, four Americans and one Italian).

From left to right, the Japanese Koichi Wakata, the Russian Anna Kikina, and the Americans Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann before their takeoff in the direction of the ISS.  October 5, 2022.

A few days of handover are planned with the four members of Crew-4, before they are sent back to Earth. The crew of Crew-5 must spend about five months in orbit and conduct more than 200 scientific experiments. This is the fifth regular mission to the Space Station (ISS) carried out by SpaceX on behalf of NASA. Anna Kikina is the first Russian to fly in 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 settle the conflict between kyiv and Moscow. The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany replied, still on Twitter, to go “to be seen”.

Future in suspense

Tensions between Moscow and Washington have increased considerably in the space field after the announcement of American sanctions against the Russian aerospace industry, in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The previous head of the Russian space agency had thus made threatening remarks about a possible crash of the ISS 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 however setting a precise date for a withdrawal.

Read also: 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 as long as our new infrastructure is under construction”, said Wednesday Sergei Krikaliov, from Roscosmos. But this construction has not yet started, and according to experts, should take many years. The Americans have announced that they want to continue to operate the station until 2030.

As things stand, the ISS cannot function without one of the two segments of which it is made up, one American, 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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