SpaceX and NASA will launch 3 astronauts and 1 astronaut to the International Space Station. Here’s everything you need to know

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SpaceX and NASA are set to launch a crew of astronauts who hail from all over the world on a trip to the International Space Station.

The mission, which will include some historical firsts, is moving forward even as geopolitical tensions mount on the ground.

The four crew members — astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Casada of NASA, astronaut Koichi Wakata of JAXA, or JAXA, and astronaut Anna Kekina of Roscosmos — are on their way to lift off aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at 12 p.m. ET United States on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If the weather is bad or other issues, teams can try again Thursday at 11:38 a.m. ET.

The live broadcast went live on NASA’s website just after 8:30 a.m. ET Wednesday. NASA will also broadcast a post-event brief, tentatively scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET, to discuss the launch.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft sat on Launch Pad 39A on October 3 as preparations for the Crew-5 mission continued.

Dubbed Crew-5, the mission is the sixth astronaut flight to be launched as a joint effort by NASA and SpaceX, a private airline, to the space station.

The upcoming spaceflight marks a historic moment, as Mann will never become the first Native American woman to travel to space. She will also serve as a mission commander, making her the first woman to take on such a role in a SpaceX mission.

Moreover, Kikina will be the first Russian to join the SpaceX mission as part of the ride-sharing deal between NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, which was signed in July. Her participation in the flight is the latest clear sign that despite rising tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US-Russia partnership in space will last for decades — at least for now.

After the expected launch on Wednesday, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will separate from the SpaceX rocket propelling it into orbit and begin a slow, precise journey to the International Space Station, which orbits about 200 miles (322 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. The spacecraft aims to dock with the space station on Thursday around 5 p.m. ET.

The launch of NASA astronauts to the space station aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is nothing new. The space agency has collaborated with SpaceX for years to move the task of transporting people to and from the space station after NASA retired from the space shuttle program in 2011.

With the return of astronaut launches from American soil, SpaceX provided the stage for many of the first historic events. For example, the Crew-4 Dragon mission carried NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, the first black woman to join the International Space Station crew.

On this trip, Mann, a registered member of the Wailacki Tribe of the Round Valley Preserve, will become the first Native American woman to travel to orbit.

“I am very proud to represent Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann said. “I think it’s important to celebrate our diversity and realize how important it is when we collaborate and unite, the amazing accomplishments we can achieve.”

In her role as commander, MAN will be responsible for ensuring that the spacecraft is on track from the time it is launched until docked at the International Space Station and again when it returns home with the four astronauts next year. Never before has a woman taken the lead on a SpaceX mission, although two women served in that position during the space shuttle program.

Kikina, a Roscosmos astronaut, will become the first Russian ever to launch a SpaceX vehicle at a time when US-Russia relations are approaching Fever degree on Ukraine war.

But NASA officials have repeatedly said that joint operations with Russia on the International Space Station, where the two countries are the primary operators, will remain isolated from the battle. Kekina’s flight comes just weeks after NASA’s Dr. Frank Rubio flew to the International Space Station aboard a Roscosmos Soyuz capsule.

“I really like my crewmates,” Kekina told reporters after arriving at the launch site in Florida on Saturday. “I really feel comfortable and relaxed. … We will do our job in the best way: happy.”

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Mann and fellow NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, who grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, joined NASA in 2013. Cassada has described Mann as one of his “closest friends on the planet.”

As with MAN, this mission will be Cassada and Kekina’s first trip into space.

For veteran astronaut Wakata, who previously traveled on NASA’s space shuttle and Russian Soyuz spacecraft, this flight marks his fifth mission in spaceflight.

“I still remember when I first traveled and saw our beautiful home planet,” he recalls during a press conference in August. “It was so wonderful, such a beautiful planet, and then I felt so lucky to have been able to call this planet our home.”

After arriving at the International Space Station, the crew will join the seven astronauts already aboard the International Space Station – including four NASA astronauts, one European Space Agency cosmonaut and two Russian cosmonauts.

There will be a handover period, where the current ISS crew will help the newly arrived astronauts settle in before the separate Crew Dragon spacecraft brings the four astronauts who were part of SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission home.

After that, Crew-5 astronauts will conduct spacewalks, during which astronauts exit the International Space Station, to maintain the outer appearance of the space station, in addition to conducting more than 200 scientific experiments.

According to NASA, “the experiments will include studies on printing human organs in space, understanding fuel systems operating on the Moon, and better understanding heart disease.”

Crew 5 is scheduled to return from space in about five months.

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