On October 5, SpaceX will launch yet another passenger mission, making history in the process: It will include cosmonaut Anna Kikina, who will become the first Russian to take a ride on a private U.S. spacecraft.
Crew-5, the newest commercial crew mission, will launch no earlier than October 5 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, docking at the International Space Station within the next 24 hours.
Along with Kikina, the rocket will also carry two NASA astronauts, Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, along with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata. The crew is destined for the International Space Station, where they will conduct experiments in microgravity. In April, Space.com reported that SpaceX's Crew-4 astronaut mission zipped up to the ISS in under 16 hours — its quickest run yet.
These astronauts will lift off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket aboard the Crew Dragon Endurance capsule. Endurance was used in a similar mission, Crew-3, back in November 2021.
Keeping with aerospace tradition, the commercial crew astronauts have named their Dragon capsules. The name Endurance was chosen by the Crew-3 astronauts, and it carries a dual meaning.
According to U.S. astronaut Raja Chari, they picked it to honor the endurance of the NASA and SpaceX crews that built the capsule and facilitated the flight. The name also harkens back to the ship used in Shackleton’s infamous 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
WHAT WILL CREW-5 DO ON THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION?
NASA says it’s preparing a variety of experiments for the crew to complete while in the unique microgravity environment that is the ISS, including “printing human organs in space, understanding fuel systems operating on the Moon, and better understanding heart disease,” according to NASA.
“With Crew-5, we're looking at about a five-to-six-month mission. Generally, we have about 250 to 300 experiments for the crew to do,” Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS Program Manager, said in a press conference. NASA also says to look out for upcoming spacewalks.
SPACEX CREW-5 LAUNCH DATE, TIME, AND SCHEDULE
The Crew-5 mission is set to launch no earlier than October 5 at 12:00 p.m. It was originally set to blast off in early September and was pushed to September 29 after Falcon 9’s booster was damaged. Hurricane Ian further delayed the launch to October 3, and now October 5 is the tentative launch date, with October 7 as a backup date.
The Crew-5 launch vehicle will consist of Crew Dragon capsule Endurance on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The Falcon 9 launches from pad LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. To see the spectacle for yourself, can watch the launch on either NASA TV or SpaceX’s website.
WHAT’S INTEGRATED CREW, AND WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH CREW-5?
With tensions at an all-time high between Russia and the United States over the war in Ukraine, it might seem like an odd time to launch the first Cosmonaut on a commercial crew flight. But this move is part of NASA’s “integrated crew” strategy for the International Space Station.
On July 15, NASA and Roscosmos officials signed the long-awaited Integrated Crew agreement in Moscow. This agreement allows for Russian Cosmonauts to fly on Crew Dragon flights to the ISS, and for American Astronauts to launch on Soyuz launches each year.
NASA says that the Dragon flights will allow for more secure access to the International Space Station. The agency wants more options to reach the International Space Station because it allows for individual points of failure. Notably, the signing of this agreement coincided with Vladimir Putin’s removal of the previous Roscosmos head, Dmitry Rogozin.
Rogozin was a longtime antagonist of NASA, known for his often erratic use of social media. And a month later, Russia announced that Roscosmos will leave the ISS after 2024. This move, if it goes into effect, will mean that all future astronauts going to the space station will have to use other launch providers, including SpaceX.
Who are the crew members of Crew-5?
Crew-5 will bring 4 trained astronauts from the United States, Japan, and Russia to the International Space Station.
The astronauts aboard Crew-5 are:
- NASA astronaut Nicole Mann as spacecraft commander
- NASA astronaut Josh Cassada as pilot
- JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata as mission specialist
- Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina as mission specialist
One of the two NASA astronauts, Nicole Mann, will be the spacecraft commander of the Crew-5 mission. As commander, Mann is responsible for overall mission success and crew safety.
While this is Mann’s first trip to space, she has an extensive career as a military pilot, having flown 25 different types of aircraft in 47 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. This marks the first time a commercial crew has had a female commander, and she is one of three women in the running for the first woman on the moon.
The second NASA astronaut, Josh Cassada, will be the pilot for Crew-5. As pilot, Cassada will maneuver the Dragon capsule to coordinate with the guidance systems. Like Mann, Cassada was in the military, and served in 23 combat missions. Mann also studied physics as a graduate student at the University of Rochester and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.
JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata is the only crewmember who has been to space before. Wakata has been on four Space Shuttle missions, and one Soyuz mission, making this his fifth trip to space. As one of two mission specialists on Crew-5, Wakata will be doing all kinds of tasks on the Dragon capsule.
According to NASA, the mission specialists “will work closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight.” Wakata was also the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station in 2014.
Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina will be Crew-5’s second mission specialist. Kikina is not just the first cosmonaut aboard a commercial crew flight, but she’s also the only active female cosmonaut in Roscosmos. Kikina will perform a similar array of tasks as Wakata on the Dragon capsule. Moving forward, Kikina’s role in Crew-5 could open the door to future U.S.-Russia collaboration in Space.