The only woman in Russia’s Roscosmos cosmonaut corps, Anna Kikina, will fly aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of a barter deal between Roscosmos and NASA. Diplomacy among the United States NASA agency and Russia’s Roscosmos Space Agency remains, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine. After Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine in February, the space community speculated that the barter deal established in December 2021 could be affected amid the war and the strong sanctions imposed by global leaders on the Russian government. However, the deal remains and Anna Kikina will make history as the first Russian cosmonaut to fly aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, it will also be her first-ever spaceflight. “[...] I was pleasantly surprised by this proposal. I feel very good about the opportunity to carry out my first flight into space under the exchange program,” Kikina said in Russian language when the barter deal was announced last year.
Ms. Kikina will launch atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 as part of NASA’s fifth crewed operational mission aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, Crew-5. The mission is scheduled to lift off on October 3rd from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center [date is subject to change]. The rest of the crewmembers are: SpaceX Crew-5 Commander European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Nicole Mann, NASA Pilot Josh Cassada, and Mission Specialist from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Koichi Wakata. Kikina will also serve as mission specialist during the Crew-5 mission. She will be in charge of supervising the autonomous docking operation of the previously-flown Dragon Endurance space vehicle which will dock to the forward port on the ISS Harmony module.
The U.S. and Russia’s space collaborations are important because both countries share the ISS Laboratory. To continue supporting each other’s space programs Russia and the United States plan to launch American astronauts aboard Soyuz and Russian cosmonauts aboard American-made spacecraft. –“Anna Kikina, as part of the Roscosmos-NASA cross flights, will fly to the ISS in the Fall of 2022 as part of the crew of an American commercial spacecraft. Accordingly, we will include the NASA astronaut in our crew on the Soyuz MS manned spacecraft,” stated the former General Director of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin in Russian back in December 2021. Rogozin has since been removed from his position, he is not the head of Roscosmos since the barter deal was officially signed by NASA on July 15. As part of the barter agreement, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will launch sometime in Autumn on the Russian Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft. In addition, Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev has been assigned to SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission in Spring 2023, while NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara will fly on Soyuz MS-23 next year.
Rogozin has been very vocal about his support for President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and has taunted the United States’ aerospace program, including SpaceX. The Kremlin announced that Putin had dismissed Rogozin as head of Roscosmos and a Deputy prime minister of Russia, Yuri Borisov, replaced him. No specific reason was given by the Kremlin for Rogozin’s removal, it is speculated it was to maintain diplomacy among space agencies amid the growing tensions caused by the Russia-Ukraine war. Rogozin shared photos of Russian cosmonauts on the ISS displaying flags of occupied regions in Ukraine in favor of the war which prompted complaints from NASA and the European Space Agency, rebuking Russia for using the ISS “for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine.”
NASA says that the alliance between global space agencies is necessary because “Flying integrated crews ensures there are appropriately trained crew members on board the station for essential maintenance and spacewalks,” said NASA representatives. “It also protects against contingencies such as a problem with any crew spacecraft, serious crew medical issues, or an emergency aboard the station that requires a crew and the vehicle they are assigned to return to Earth sooner than planned.”
SpaceX Crew-5 members: Commander Nicole Mann, Pilot Josh Cassada, and Mission Specialists Koichi Wakata and Anna Kikina
Featured Image: Russian Cosmonaut Anna Kikina training inside SpaceX Crew Dragon simulator. / Source: SpaceX