SpaceX and NASA launched a crew of astronauts who hail from all over the world on a trip to the International Space Station Wednesday. The mission, which includes some historic firsts, moved forward even as rising geopolitical tensions brew on the ground.
The four crew members — astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA, astronaut Koichi Wakata of JAXA, or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and cosmonaut Anna Kikina of Roscosmos — took off aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at 12 p.m. ET from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Dubbed Crew-5, the mission is the sixth astronaut flight launched as a joint endeavor between NASA and SpaceX, a privately held aerospace company, to the space station.
The four crew members leave the Operations and Checkout building before heading to the launch pad on Wednesday. Joining Kikina and Mann are Josh Cassada of NASA, front left, and Koichi Wakata of JAXA, or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Nicole Mann is a registered member of the Wailacki tribe of the Round Valley Reservation, and is the first Native American ever to travel to orbit. She is also serving as Mission Commander — the first woman to serve in that role on a SpaceX mission.
On this flight, Mann, a registered member of the Wailacki tribe of the Round Valley Reservation, became the first Native American woman ever to travel to orbit.
In her role as commander, Mann will be responsible for ensuring the spacecraft is on track from the time it launches until it docks with the ISS and again when it returns home with the four Crew-5 astronauts next year.
Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina gestures while departing the crew quarters for launch. She is the first Russian to join a SpaceX mission.Steve Nesius/Reuters
The Crew Dragon spacecraft is now in orbit, and is set to begin a slow, precise trek to the ISS, which orbits about 200 miles (322 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface. The spacecraft is aiming to dock with the space station on Thursday around 5 p.m. ET. After reaching the ISS, the crew will join the seven astronauts already aboard the ISS — including four NASA astronauts, a European Space Agency astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts.
Then the Crew-5 astronauts will set to work conducting spacewalks, during which astronauts exit the ISS, to maintain the space station’s exterior, as well as performing more than 200 science experiments.
“Experiments will include studies on printing human organs in space, understanding fuel systems operating on the Moon, and better understanding heart disease,” according to NASA.
Crew-5 is slated to return from space in about five months.
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I’ve long linked space travel with peace. Early astronauts commented that, from space, you don’t see countries and political divisions. You see one planet Earth.
And, let’s face it. If you’re in space, you better get along with the people you’re with. They’re all you’ve got.