CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos are finalizing an agreement to launch the first cosmonaut on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, agency officials confirmed Monday (December 20).
Joel Montalbano, program director for NASA’s International Space Station (ISS), told reporters during a pre-launch briefing for the upcoming Dragon CRS-24 cargo resupply mission that the plan was to launch a cosmonaut in the SpaceX Crew-5 mission, which would launch in the fall of 2022.
“The plan is to fly a cosmonaut on the Crew-5 mission next fall and then launch a NASA astronaut on an upcoming Soyuz mission,” Montalbano said. “The agency is currently finalizing those plans through government agreements.”
Related: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is ‘safe enough’ to fly Russian cosmonauts, says Roscosmos boss
Russian officials made the announcement for the first time on December 8; however, the two agencies have been trying to reach an agreement since the inception of the Commercial Crew Program. According to Roscosmos, the selected cosmonaut is Anna Kikina, the only active female astronaut in the Russian Cosmonaut Corps.
The mission will be his first space flight and, according to Montalbano, a cosmonaut has already started training at the SpaceX facility. (Montalbano did not confirm that it was Kikina who would fly the mission.)
As a member of the Crew-5 mission, Kikina would join NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, who were originally assigned to Boeing’s first manned mission. Mann and Cassada were recently reassigned to SpaceX and will team up with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata to complete a crew of four.
In exchange for his seat on the Dragon, Dmitry Rogozin, Roscosmos CEO, has said the Russian space agency promised a Russian Soyuz capsule seat to an American astronaut in exchange.
This seat swap was NASA’s hope once its commercial crew program intensified. To date, SpaceX has launched four manned missions to low Earth orbit, three of which are long-duration missions. (The other was a crewed test flight that demonstrated that Crew Dragon could transport astronauts to and from the space station.)
SpaceX was one of two companies selected by NASA to transport astronauts to low Earth orbit and vice versa; Boeing is the other. The duo was selected in 2014, with SpaceX being the only company to launch astronauts so far.
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft first flew on an unmanned mission two years ago, but was unable to reach the ISS due to multiple software anomalies. Working alongside NASA, the company spent 18 months reviewing the spacecraft’s software and various systems to make sure any problems were resolved and it was ready to fly.
However, while sitting on the launch pad leading to its second unmanned test flight, scheduled for August 30, several valves within the spacecraft’s propulsion system corroded and became stuck. Boeing tried to fix the problem, but was forced to send the spacecraft back to the factory.
They have since determined that moisture interactions with the ship’s fuel caused the valves to close. Engineers are working to troubleshoot and prepare the spacecraft to fly for its next launch attempt, which is scheduled for no earlier than May 2022.
Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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