Despite the tensions, the NASA astronaut joins Russian cosmonauts for the flight to the space station

Despite severely strained US-Russian foreign relations, an American astronaut joined two Russian cosmonauts aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan and launched into orbit on Wednesday on a double-orbit flight to the International Space Station.

With Commander Sergey Prokopyev at the controls, flanked on the left by co-pilot Dmitry Petelin and on the right by NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, the Soyuz 2.1a rocket came to life at 9:54 am ET (6:54 pm local time) and gently pulled away from the his shooting range at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The space station crew enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the Soyuz launch as the spacecraft exited the atmosphere and into orbit itself, en route to the rendezvous three hours after takeoff.


All three crew members appeared relaxed in the cockpit video as they monitored their instruments, marking milestones on the way to orbit. Eight minutes and 45 seconds after takeoff, the Soyuz separated from the third stage of the booster, the solar panels opened, and the ship left after the space station.

The launch was scheduled to allow for an accelerated two-orbit rendezvous procedure, allowing Prokopyev and his crewmates to reach the orbital outpost just over three hours after launch. The rendezvous went smoothly and the Soyuz slipped for a dock at the Earth-facing door of the Rassvet module at 1:06 PM ET.

“We had a spectacular view of the #Soyuz launch!” Station astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti tweeted. “Sergey, Dmitry and Frank will be knocking on our door in a couple of hours … I can’t wait to welcome them to their new home!”

Waiting to welcome them on board were Expedition 67 commander Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, which was launched last March aboard the Soyuz MS-21 / 67S ferry. SpaceX 4 crew commander Kjell Lindgren and his three crewmates, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins and Cristoforetti, an astronaut from the European Space Agency, are also aboard the ISS.

Rubio will be part of the US sponsored crew, although he will remain a member of the Soyuz MS-22 / 68S crew. His place is the first under a new agreement between NASA and the Russian space agency to resume the launch of astronauts aboard the Soyuz and begin transporting cosmonauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The goal is to ensure that one crew member from each country is always aboard the station even if a Soyuz or NASA ferry is forced to leave early in an emergency, bringing its crew back to Earth with it.

Soyuz flight engineer Dmitry Petelin, left, Commander Sergey Prokopyev, center, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio greet family, friends, and supporters before dressing up and heading to launch for take-off on a flight for the International Space Station.


“On the side of the ISS, I think it’s very important as it gives us redundancy and the ability to respond to unforeseen circumstances,” Rubio said in a pre-launch interview with CBS News. “Essentially, he gives us a backup plan.”

The arrival of the new Soyuz crew sets up a carefully choreographed sequence to replace all seven members of the station’s current crew.

Hopefully, Artemyev, Korsakov and Matveev will return to Earth on September 1. 29, landing in the steppe of Kazakhstan to complete a 194-day mission.

Four days later, the launch of the Crew Dragon Endurance is scheduled from Florida with crew commander 5 Nicole Mann, pilot Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina aboard. Including a piloted test flight, the launch will mark SpaceX’s seventh manned station mission.

After a week of delivery to help familiarize their replacements with station operations, Lindgren, Hines, Watkins and Cristoforetti will disengage and return to Earth on 10 October. 10 aboard its Crew Dragon – Freedom – to conclude a 166-day mission that began with the launch last April.

Kikina is the first cosmonaut to be assigned to a Crew Dragon flight and the first to lead an American spaceship since December 2002, when the Endeavor shuttle transported one cosmonaut to the station and brought two more back to Earth. Kikina will live and work in the Russian segment, although he will remain a member of the SpaceX crew.

The Russian spacecraft Soyuz transported joint crews to the lab complex between the shuttle’s retirement in 2011 and the debut of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which began transporting astronauts to orbit in 2020. Those seats cost NASA up to 90 millions of dollars each.

For the past two years, NASA managers have been working with their Russian counterparts to strike a deal to begin swapping seats, launching a NASA astronaut aboard each stationed Soyuz and a cosmonaut aboard each Crew Dragon. . No money would change hands because both sides benefit from it.

Since crews have to take off and land in the same vehicle, a medical emergency or some other serious problem could force a crew to leave the station and return to Earth earlier than expected. The seat swap agreement ensures that at least one NASA astronaut and one cosmonaut are always aboard the station to operate their respective systems.

The Russians provide the rocket propellant and power needed to keep the station in orbit and avoid space debris, while NASA provides most of the laboratory’s electricity, near-continuous communications, and the huge gyroscopes that keep the outpost properly. oriented. Crews are not cross-trained to operate each other’s systems.

Kikina is the first cosmonaut to fly under the recently signed seat swap agreement, while Rubio is the first American to drive a Soyuz since astronaut Mark Vande Hei took off on a station flight in April 2021.

The deal took longer than expected because the Russians first wanted to assess the security of the Crew Dragon system and then because of the increasingly strained relations in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Rubio took the long negotiations abreast.

“It is important to realize that there is a long history of cooperation dating back to the Apollo-Soyuz program, the Shuttle-Mir program and now over 20 years of working together on the ISS,” he said.

“It just builds camaraderie and trust in a way that is very important to maintain, especially at times like this where there are tensions and other aspects. So I’m very honored to represent our nation and I’m proud to be here. I can’t stress enough. what I think is a good thing. “


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