US flies Russian cosmonaut to ISS as Ukraine conflict rages

US flies Russian cosmonaut to ISS as Ukraine conflict rages

(L-R) Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata
(L-R) Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. Photo: Jim WATSON / AFP
Source: AFP

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A SpaceX capsule carrying a Russian crew member docked Thursday with the International Space Station on a NASA mission that carries significant symbolism amid the war in Ukraine.

The Crew Dragon spaceship "Endurance" blasted off Wednesday from Florida and rendezvoused with the orbiting research outpost some 30 hours later, docking at 5:01 pm Eastern Time (2301 GMT).

"Crew-5 is happy to have finally arrived at the International Space Station," said commander Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman in space. "We are looking forward to getting to work."

Also aboard: Koichi Wakata of Japan, Josh Cassada of the United States and Anna Kikina of Russia, the only female cosmonaut currently in service.

Around two hours after docking, hatches will open allowing the crew to join seven others already on the station: two Russians, four Americans, and an Italian.

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Two weeks ago, an American astronaut took off on a Russian Soyuz rocket for the orbital platform.

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The long-planned astronaut exchange program has been maintained despite soaring tensions between the United States and Russia since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February.

Ensuring the operation of the ISS has become one of the few remaining areas of cooperation between the United States and Russia.

During a post-launch briefing, Sergei Krikalev, head of the human space program at Roscosmos, hailed the occasion as the start of a "new phase of our cooperation," evoking the historic Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975, a symbol of detente at the height of the Cold War.

Krikalev, a former cosmonaut respected by his American colleagues, has been on something of a charm offensive after the last head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, earlier this year threatened to withdraw cooperation and let the ISS crash over US or European territory.

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While Russia has announced plans for its own station, analysts believe it would be difficult to build in the next few years, and withdrawing from the ISS would effectively ground Moscow's once-proud civilian space program.

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Source: AFP

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