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Cloud-kissed skies above Kennedy Space Center welcomed the launch of four people atop a SpaceX rocket Wednesday, giving way to a roughly day-long flight to the International Space Station.
At pad 39A, a 230-foot Falcon 9 rocket blasted off at noon sharp, taking NASA's Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann, Japan's Koichi Wakata, and Russia's Anna Kikina to orbit in a Crew Dragon capsule. The mission known as Crew-5 is SpaceX's sixth crewed flight under contract from NASA and eighth overall when including private spaceflights.
"Thank you so much to the Falcon team," Mann, commander, said once Crew Dragon was in a stable orbit about 15 minutes after liftoff. "That was a smooth ride. You've got three rookies that are pretty happy to be floating in space right now and one veteran astronaut happy to be back in space as well."
Shortly after liftoff, the rocket's 162-foot first stage successfully touched down on the "Just Read the Instructions" drone ship. It marked the brand new booster's first flight.
Docking with the ISS some 250 miles above Earth is expected just before 5 p.m. EDT Thursday, meaning the 29-hour flight will be one of Crew Dragon's longer ones to date. Once on board, the crew will join seven others: four NASA and European Space Agency astronauts and three Russian cosmonauts.
Crew-5 marked the first time a Russian cosmonaut flew on an American-made vehicle since the space shuttle program. NASA agreed to swap assignments with one of its crew, leading to Astronaut Frank Rubio's launch to the ISS on a Soyuz rocket in late September. Kikina's flight on Crew Dragon completes the swap.
"Thank you, Falcon 9," Kikina said after the capsule separated from the rocket's upper stage. "And thank you to Roscosmos, JAXA, and NASA for giving us this opportunity ... so we can do it together."
No money was exchanged between NASA and Roscosmos for the crew swap.
•Mann, commander: The 45-year old Marine Corps officer is an F/A-18 pilot and engineer. Crew-5 is her first spaceflight and the first time a Native American woman travels to space. She is from Petaluma, California.
•Cassada, pilot: The Navy test pilot and physicist, 49, is also on his first mission. He grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, before joining the Navy and flying 23 combat missions.
•Wakata, mission specialist: The 59-year-old Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut is the veteran of the group. Wednesday's launch marks his fifth visit to space – three space shuttle missions, one Soyuz, and now Crew Dragon.
•Kikina, mission specialist: Kikina, 38, is on her first spaceflight, too. She is a Russian engineer and test pilot.
Crew-5 is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which was established to replace the space shuttle's ability to take crews to the ISS. The U.S. went without crewed spaceflight access for nearly a decade – relying on Russian Soyuz spacecraft in between – until May 2020 when SpaceX launched the Demo-2 mission.
Since then, SpaceX has launched six crews under that multibillion-dollar contract with NASA.
Space Coast's next launch
At Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, meanwhile, SpaceX teams are preparing for the third launch of the week. A previously flown Falcon 9 rocket will boost two commercial communications satellites, Galaxy 33 and 34, for Luxembourg-based Intelsat. Liftoff from Launch Complex 40 is set for 7:07 p.m. EDT.
Conditions should be nearly 100% "go," Space Force forecasters said Wednesday.
"While passing low topped cumulus or brief Atlantic sprinkle cannot completely be ruled out, the threat will be very low for any weather concerns," Space Launch Delta 45 said.
After liftoff, Falcon 9 will aim for landing on the "Shortfall of Gravitas" drone ship in the Atlantic.
If it does fly on time, Falcon 9 will cap off a launch-heavy week for the Space Coast after Hurricane Ian forced teams to stand down for several days. A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket kicked off the back-to-back launches Tuesday with the launch of two communications satellites for SES, another Luxembourg operator.
For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
Thursday, Oct. 6: SpaceX Galaxy 33 and 34
Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9
Mission: Intelsat's Galaxy 33 and 34 commercial communications satellites
Launch Time: 7:07 p.m. EDT
Location: Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station
Landing: Drone ship
Weather: Greater than 90% "go"
Visit floridatoday.com/space starting 90 minutes before each liftoff for live video and real-time updates.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: NASA and SpaceX launch Crew-5 mission from Florida with first Russian