Russian launches into space from the US, for the first time in 20 years

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – For the first time in 20 years, a Russian cosmonaut from the United States on Wednesday blasted off to the International Space Station along with NASA and Japanese astronauts despite tensions over the war in Ukraine.

“We are very happy to do this together,” said Anna Kikina, the only Russian cosmonaut, giving thanks in English and Russian. “Spacebo!”

She was among the three newcomers to the voyage, along with Marine Colonel Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman to circumnavigate the world, and Navy Captain Josh Cassada. They are joined by Koichi Wakata of the Japan Space Agency, who is on his fifth space flight.

“Fabulous!” Radio Man. “It was a smooth, arduous ride. You have three newbies who are very happy to be floating in space now.”

They are due to arrive at the space station Thursday, 29 hours after departing from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and won’t return to Earth until March. They are replacing an American-Italian crew that arrived in April.

Hurricane Ian, which devastated parts of the state last week, delayed their flight to SpaceX. The weather was perfect as the Falcon rocket blasted off into the bright afternoon sky.

“My hope is that with this launch we can light up the skies over Florida a little bit for everyone,” Wakata said before the flight.

Kekina is the Russian Space Agency’s exchange for Frank Rubio of NASA, who flew to the space station two weeks ago from Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket. He flew with two astronauts.

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Over the summer, space agencies agreed to switch seats on their flights In order to ensure a continued US and Russian presence aboard the outpost, which is 260 miles (420 kilometers) high. The barter was approved even as global hostilities escalated due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February. The next crew exchange in the spring.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the main reason for exchanging seats was safety – in the event of an emergency imposed on the crew of one capsule at home, an American and a Russian would still be on board.

Meanwhile, Russia remains committed to the space station until at least 2024, Russian space official Sergei Krikalev confirmed to reporters after liftoff. Russia wants to build its own station in orbit later this decade, but he said that it will take some time and until it’s ready, it makes sense to continue working with NASA.

Krikalev, the former astronaut who was the first to launch on an American rocket, noted that the two countries are in a new phase of space cooperation that began with the Apollo Soyuz orbital engagement in 1975. NASA’s commander for that mission, Thomas Stafford, attended Wednesday’s launch.

“I hope we can work together the way it started in 1975,” Krikalev said, while acknowledging that he was trying to calm any friction between the two space agencies.

NASA began flying astronauts aboard its space shuttles in 1994, first to the Russian space station Mir and then to the nascent space station. The disaster of re-entry into Colombia in 2003 put an end to that. But American astronauts have continued to ride Russian rockets for tens of millions of dollars per seat.

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Kakina is the fifth Russian woman to launch a rocket from the planet. She said she was surprised by her choice of seat swap after facing “many tests and obstacles” during a decade of training. “But I did it. Maybe I’m lucky. I’m strong,” she said.

Mann, a member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian tribes in California, took her mother’s dream catcher, a small, exposed, traditional collar believed to offer protection. Retired NASA astronaut John Herrington of Chickasaw Nation became the first Native American in space in 2002.

“I am very proud of representing my Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann said before the trip, adding that everyone on her crew had a unique background. “It is important that we celebrate our diversity and also recognize how important it is when we collaborate and unite, and the incredible accomplishments we can achieve.”

As for the war in Ukraine, Mann said the four put politics and personal beliefs aside, “and it’s really remarkable how the joint mission of the space station unites us so instantly.”

“We have the opportunity to lead by example to the community in how we can work together, live together and explore together,” Casada added.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has now launched eight crews since 2020: six for NASA and two specials. Boeing, NASA’s other contracted taxi service, plans to take its first astronaut flight early next year. r, after software repair delays and other issues that surfaced on test flights.


The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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