NASA astronaut, Russian cosmonauts launch into space

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A Russian capsule took an American astronaut into space today, marking a remarkable continuation of the Russian-US partnership in space in an era of great geopolitical tension.

The spacecraft took off from the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying NASA astronaut Dr. Frank Rubio and two Russian cosmonauts – Dmitri Petelin and Sergey Prokopyev – on what should be a six-month stay on the International Space Station. The takeoff took place at 9:54 am ET. A few hours later, just after 1 p.m. ET, the Soyuz capsule docked at the ISS, allowing astronauts to board the space station.

This is the first space trip for Rubio, who will serve as a flight engineer on this mission. A qualified family doctor, he also has experience as a flight surgeon, which means he has the skills to take care of any medical problems that might arise during the trip.

Rubio, a native of Florida, joined NASA in 2017. Before being accepted into the astronaut corps, he graduated from the United States Military Academy and earned a doctorate of medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He has more than 600 hours of combat experience in countries including Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Rubio considers Miami his hometown, according to NASA, although he was born in California and his mother lives in El Salvador.

When Rubio and his Russian counterparts arrive at the space station, they will team up with astronauts from the United States, Russia and Europe. The space station, which has continuously had people aboard since the year 2000, maintains a rotating base of crew members to ensure that the orbiting laboratory is constantly staffed with sufficient astronauts to maintain the space station hardware and to maintain a long log of space-based experiments on operation.

The fact that Rubio is traveling in space in a Russian Soyuz capsule is remarkable.

The history of transporting humans to and from the International Space Station began with Russia and the United States each having their own rockets to carry their citizens to and from the ISS, which became a symbol of post-Cold War cooperation. in the late 20th century and early 2000s. But after 2011, when NASA withdrew its Space Shuttle program, Russia’s Soyuz capsules were the only option for US astronauts. NASA has paid up to $ 90 million for seats aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

In 2020 it changed. NASA had come up with its own plan years earlier to allow privatized companies to take on the task of transporting astronauts to and from the space station. And Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been doing so ever since, starting with the Demo-2 mission in 2020 and, more recently, preparing for the Crew-5 mission. SpaceX launches have become routine for NASA, allowing it to regain some control over ISS personnel.

The tension between the US and Russia, however, peaked after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

But after years of sharing trips on Russian Soyuz vehicles before SpaceX entered the scene, one of the big questions that emerged was whether the US and Russia would continue to put their astronauts side by side on ISS missions.

The answer was given in July when NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, confirmed that sharing of rocket seats to the space station would continue. Russian cosmonauts are now expected to fly on SpaceX capsules in addition to NASA astronauts sharing seats on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The United States and Russia are the major operators of the ISS, with both countries controlling its day-to-day operations. Importantly, the Russian-controlled segment hosts the propulsion needed to keep the ISS afloat in Earth’s orbit. And NASA has repeatedly stated that one of its goals is to ensure continued cooperation between the United States and Russia in space.

Rubio, as many US astronauts had done before him, traveled to Russia to train with Russian cosmonauts prior to this mission.

“It was a privilege to be here,” he told CNN’s Kristin Fisher at an August press conference. “We have a pretty robust NASA team that’s here to support the mission … I think any of us would say we feel safe.”


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