Elon Musk’s SpaceX launches Russian cosmonaut with first female-led crew

Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a crew of four astronauts to the International Space Station and included a Russian cosmonaut among its crew.

The launch is the first mission of its kind to be commanded by a female astronaut.

NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann, who is also the first Native American woman to travel into Earth orbit is the first woman to command one of Musk's SpaceX craft.

Also in the capsule are Nicole’s NASA colleague Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata; and Anna Kikina, a Roscomos cosmonaut who joined this mission as part of a US-Russian ride-sharing agreement.

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NASA webcast of the launch showed the two-stage, 230-foot Falcon 9 being lifted into orbit by its nine Merlin engines.

Mission Control wished the crew "Godspeed, Endurance," and mission commander Mann replied, "Awesome, Falcon team. That was a smooth ride."

The SpaceX launch vehicle’s reusable lower stage booster flew itself back to Earth and landed safely on an autonomous recovery vessel floating at sea.

Amid escalating tensions between Russia and the US over Ukraine, 38-year-old Anna Kikina is making a the first flight for a Russian cosmonaut aboard a US spacecraft in 20 years.

The launch comes after Musk made claims about how the Russian invasion in Ukraine could come to an end but was hit with backlash on Twitter.

Musk has been aiding Ukraine with Starlink technology after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded the country.

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Earlier this year, Russia's Roscosmos space agency revealed plans to pull out of the ISS by 2024 and develop its own space station.

In a press conference, NASA associate administrator Kathy Lueders said: “When you each are flying other's crew members, you know that you have a huge responsibility that you're promising to the other country.

“At a working level, we really appreciated the constancy in the relationship, even during some really, really tough times geopolitically.”

Colonel Mann is a US Marine Corps fighter pilot, a veteran of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As well as being the mission commander, she also is one of the 18 astronauts selected to group selected for NASA's Artemis programme, which is set to make the first Moon landings since Christmas 1972.

“I am very proud to represent Native Americans and my heritage,” she said. “I think it's important to celebrate our diversity and also realise how important it is when we collaborate and unite, the incredible accomplishments that we can have”.

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