SpaceX successfully launched another batch of astronauts to the International Space Station on Wednesday as part of its contract to transport astronauts to NASA. Like the company’s seven other human spaceflight missions, it was completely ordinary—and that’s what made it so remarkable.
The Crew-5 mission (so named because it is SpaceX’s fifth crewed mission under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program) launched at noon from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The crew of four is American astronauts Nicole Mann, mission commander, and Josh Casado, pilot; JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata, mission specialist; and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, a mission specialist — travel to the station on a Crew Dragon named “Endurance.” It separated from the Falcon 9 rocket shortly after launch and is expected to arrive at the station on Thursday.
The quartet will spend up to six months on board the ISS. Wakata is the only space flight veteran among the crew members who spent more than 11 months in space.
Meet Crew-5 pic.twitter.com/k4nwgMAIuK
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 5, 2022
SpaceX has sent 30 people into space. The mission is notable for several other reasons as well. It’s also the first time an astronaut has flown on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, and the first time an astronaut has flown on a US spacecraft since 2002. Cosmonaut Kikin’s place on the spacecraft is part of the recent agreement on the transportation of astronauts between the United States and Russia. American astronaut Francisco Rubio flew to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz last month as part of the deal.
At a post-launch briefing, the head of Roscosmos’ human spaceflight department, Sergei Krikalev, said the Crew-5 mission was “a new stage in our cooperation” between the US and Russia, part of a relationship that began “more than 40 years ago.”
In recent weeks, Krikalev has struck a more conciliatory tone than some of his former colleagues. He said this at a NASA media briefing before the Crew-5 mission the Russian space agency is negotiating with Moscow to extend its participation in the ISS – despite the fact that the head of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, announced a few months before that Russia plans to leave the station after 2024 and operate its own orbital platform. When asked if his recent comments regarding the NASA-Roscosmos partnership were part of an effort to smooth relations between the two countries, Krikalev said yes.
Crew-5 is SpaceX’s eighth human spaceflight in less than three years. The Endurance Dragon was also flown by Crew-3.