Nicole Mann becomes the first Native American woman in space during the Crew-5 mission | Space

Nicole Mann became the first Native American woman in space when she blasted off at the controls of a flight to the international space station Wednesday, which also included the first Russian to join a US spaceflight since the invasion of Ukraine.

Mann’s trip on the launch vehicle, which consists of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket topped with a Crew Dragon capsule named Endurance, lifted off as scheduled at noon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The four-member crew is expected to arrive at the ISS after about 29 hours Thursday evening to begin a 150-day science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory 420 km above Earth.

The mission, designated Crew-5, marks the ISS’ fifth full-fledged crew. NASA has flown in a SpaceX vehicle since the private rocket company, founded by Tesla owner Elon Musk, began sending American astronauts aloft in May 2020.

Mann, 45, is a veteran combat pilot who made spaceflight history not only as the first Indigenous woman in orbit, but also as the first woman to command a Crew Dragon capsule.

His team includes Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, who hitches alongside American astronaut Josh Cassada and Japanese Koichi Wakata.

The rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral. Photograph: Steve Nesius/Reuters

Mann is a US Marine Corps colonel who has served combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and holds a master’s degree in engineering, specializing in fluid mechanics.

She is a registered member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. The only other Native American to enter orbit is John Herrington, who flew on a shuttle mission in 2002.

“I’m very proud,” Mann said of his historic trip before takeoff. “It’s important that we celebrate our diversity and really communicate it specifically to the younger generation.”

Referring to the excitement her trip generated among some Native American communities, she said, “It’s really, I think, an audience that we don’t get to reach very often.”

The Crew-5 mission is also notable for the inclusion of Kikina, 38, the only female cosmonaut on active duty for Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, and the first Russian to fly aboard an American spacecraft since the Russia invaded Ukraine in February. The last Russian cosmonaut to ride an American rocket into orbit was in 2002, on a NASA space shuttle.

Kikina trades places with a Nasa astronaut who boarded a Russian Soyuz flight to the ISS last month, as part of a new carpool agreement signed by Nasa and Roscosmos in July.

She would only be the fifth Russian woman in space. “In general, for me, it doesn’t matter,” she explained in a recent interview. “But I realize that because I represent the people of my country.”

The Crew-5 team will be hosted by seven existing occupants of the ISS – the Crew-4 team made up of three Americans and an Italian astronaut, as well as two Russians and a NASA astronaut who flew with them in orbit on a Soyuz flight.

The newcomers are tasked with conducting more than 200 experiments, many of which focus on medical research ranging from 3D bioprinting human tissue to studying bacteria grown in microgravity.

US-Russian space cooperation has been tested like never before since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, leading the Biden administration to impose sweeping sanctions on Moscow.

During a press conference with NASA and SpaceX on Monday, a senior Roscosmos official, Sergei Krikalev, said his agency had approval to continue with the ISS until 2024 and hoped to obtain “permission” from the Kremlin to further expand the partnership, until Russia builds a new space station.

NASA hopes to operate the ISS with its existing partners until around 2030.

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