Sunday, May 28, 2023|
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For the first time in 20 years, a Russian cosmonaut rocketed from the U.S. on Wednesday, launching to the International Space Station alongside NASA and Japanese astronauts despite tensions over the war in Ukraine.
“We’re so glad to do it together,” said Anna Kikina, Russia’s lone female cosmonaut, offering thanks in both English and Russian. “Spasibo!”
She was among the three newcomers on the flight, alongside Marine Col. Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman to orbit the world, and Navy Capt. Josh Cassada. They were joined by Japan Space Agency’s Koichi Wakata, who is making his fifth spaceflight.
“Awesome!” radioed Mann. “That was a smooth ride uphill. You’ve got three rookies who are pretty happy to be floating in space right now.”
They’re due to arrive at the space station Thursday, 29 hours after departing from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and won’t be back on Earth until March. They’re replacing a U.S.-Italian crew that arrived in April.
Their SpaceX flight was delayed by Hurricane Ian, which devastated parts of the state last week. The weather was ideal as the Falcon rocket blasted into a brilliant noontime sky.
“I hope with this launch we will brighten up the skies over Florida a little bit for everyone,” Wakata said before the flight.
Kikina is the Russian Space Agency’s exchange for NASA’s Frank Rubio, who launched to the space station two weeks ago from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket. He flew up with two cosmonauts.
The space agencies agreed over the summer to swap seats on their flights in order to ensure a continuous U.S. and Russian presence aboard the 260-mile-high (420-kilometer-high) outpost. The barter was authorized even as global hostilities mounted over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February. The next crew exchange is in the spring.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the key reason for the seat exchange is safety — in case an emergency forces one capsule’s crew home, there would still be an American and Russian on board.
In the meantime, Russia remains committed to the space station through at least 2024, Russia space official Sergei Krikalev assured reporters after liftoff. Russia wants to build its own station in orbit later this decade, but he said that will take time and until it’s ready, it makes sense to keep working with NASA.
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