The International Space Station has been orbiting the Earth since its launch in 1998.
NASA announced on Friday that it would resume joint flights with the Russians to the International Space Station (ISS) to ensure “safe operations” of the station, despite US efforts to isolate Moscow. following the invasion of Ukraine.
Two American astronauts will fly aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket on two separate missions, including the premiere is scheduled for September. Two Russian cosmonauts will also fly aboard SpaceX rockets, a first.
Such an exchange had been planned for a long time, but was still awaiting final validation from Russia. It had seemed compromised after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, but NASA officials had repeated in recent weeks that they hoped it would take place.
L' The announcement came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Russian space agency Roscosmos boss Dmitry Rogozin. Since the Russian offensive against Ukraine, it has distinguished itself by its very bellicose statements towards the West.
In order to ensure the continued safety of International Space Station operations, to protect the lives of astronauts, and to ensure the continued presence of Americans in space, NASA will resume integrated flights on spacecraft. US and Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the agency said in a statement.
American astronaut Frank Rubio will fly aboard a Soyuz rocket scheduled for takeoff from Kazakhstan on September 21, along with two Russian cosmonauts.
American astronaut Loral O'Hara will also fly aboard a Russian spacecraft on a subsequent mission in the spring of 2023.
In addition, Anna Kikina, the only active female cosmonaut, will be part of the Crew-5 crew due to take off in September aboard a SpaceX rocket. And cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev will fly with Crew-6, also in spring 2023.
After the shutdown of the American space shuttles in 2011, the United States was forced to send its astronauts to the ISS by purchasing seats on board Soyuz rockets from the Russian space agency Roscomos.
Since the end of this monopoly with SpaceX's first flight to the ISS in 2020, crews have flown almost exclusively on rockets from their respective countries.
The last astronaut to travel aboard a Soyuz was American Mark Vande Hei, who took off in April 2021. He returned almost a year later, also brought back from Moscow, when the war in Ukraine had already started.
After his return to Earth, he assured that the Russian cosmonauts remained very dear friends, despite the very strong diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
The exchanges announced on Friday are made without other financial counterparties.
The dismissed boss of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin (Archives)
The United United have imposed draconian sanctions on Moscow, affecting in part the Russian aerospace industry. Dmitry Rogozin has repeatedly protested against these sanctions, including European sanctions.
This week, the European Space Agency announced that it is ending its cooperation with Russia on the joint ExoMars mission, which had already been suspended for several months. But the International Space Station is unique.
It was designed to be interdependent and relies on the contributions of each of the space agencies to operate, NASA said on Friday. No agency has the ability to operate independently of others.