A SpaceX rocket carrying four astronauts launched to the International Space Station on Wednesday.
The rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday afternoon. It is scheduled to arrive at the space station shortly before 5 pm on Thursday.
One of the mission’s passengers, Crew-5, is Russian cosmonaut, Anna Kekina. Its presence aboard the spacecraft shows that cooperation continues between the United States and Russia on the International Space Station in the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Other crew members on Wednesday’s flight are Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA and Koichi Wakata of Japan’s space agency JAXA. The four will spend half a year in orbit at the space station.
In July, NASA and Roscosmos, the state company that oversees the Russian space industry, completed an agreement to transport Russian cosmonauts on American rockets and NASA astronauts on Russian Soyuz rockets. As part of the arrangement, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio launched aboard the Soyuz craft last month. Ms. Kekina is the first Russian woman to ride a SpaceX rocket.
In recent years, even before the Ukraine war, Russian and American officials thought about the future of the International Space Station. The outpost in orbit has been continuously occupied since 2000 and is jointly administered by both countries.
The current agreement to manage the station expires in 2024. During the Trump administration, NASA officials Suggest retiring the International Space Station And they turn to Commercial alternatives. However, it doesn’t seem likely that any private space stations will launch so quickly, and NASA now says it wants to extend operations on the International Space Station until 2030.
Russia has said it will build its own space station, but has also indicated that it will not leave the International Space Station until that is ready. While Dmitry Rogozin, the former general manager of Roscosmos, made bombastic threats that Russia would leave the project, Russia never gave official notice that it would leave before the end of the agreement in 2024.
Russia, like other nations participating in the space station, is currently talking with NASA about a proposed extension to 2030. Russia has suggested that its participation may not last for long, but has also said it will not leave until its future space station is operational.
While the future of the space station is still far on the horizon, NASA and Russia have had to address the issue of transporting crews to and from the outpost in orbit for the time being. In the space station’s early years, before the loss of Shuttle Columbia in 2003, the two countries exchanged seats on the US space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. After the space shuttles were retired in 2011, NASA purchased seats from Russia to transport its astronauts to and from orbit. That became unnecessary when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule became operational in 2020.
But NASA wanted to resume trading the seats. For the seat exchange program, no money is being paid between NASA and Roscosmos. Instead, the arrangement is intended to help ensure the smooth operation of the space station, which is made up of a Russian-led segment and a NASA-led segment.
“They provide the propulsion,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during NASA Television’s coverage of the launch. “We, the United States, provide the electricity. So for the safety of all the crew, as well as the operation of the station, we need the two there now, especially in terms of safety.”
The concern is that some kind of emergency—a serious health issue with a crew member, for example—could lead to an early return to Earth. All crew members aboard the spacecraft will also have to return to Earth. (Otherwise, there will not be enough seats on the remaining spacecraft.) If all the Russians arrived aboard a Soyuz, that would leave the Russian part of the space station without a crew to manage it.
“Integrated Flight Crews ensure that there are appropriately trained crew members onboard the station for essential maintenance and spacewalking,” NASA said in a statement in July when Ms. Kekina was announced as a member of Crew 5.
Despite the tensions on the ground since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, operations on the International Space Station have not been greatly affected. But there were tensions on the ground. When Mr. Rogozin was still running Roscosmos, he demanded the lifting of economic sanctions against Russian airlines while threatening to leave Russia’s space station. And in July, in a rare wave of disapproval, NASA sharply criticized the Russian space agency Roscosmos for distributing photos of three Russian cosmonauts on the space station carrying the ship. Flags of Russian-backed separatists In two provinces of Ukraine.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Rogozin was replaced, and his successor, Yuri Borisov, was even more depressed.
Soon after his appointment, Mr. Borisov suggested it Russia’s involvement in the space station after 2024 He was uncertain during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. But Borisov and other Russian officials have been more cautious about their country’s plans, noting that Russia’s independent orbital station will not be built until later this decade.
“We do not intend to stop our manned program for even a minute, so our future plans will be related to the construction of the Russian orbital station.” Mr. Borisov said this week at the Russian Academy of Sciences, according to a report from Roscosmos.
During a NASA press conference after the launch, Sergei Krikalev, executive director of Roscosmos’ human spaceflight programs, was asked if the Russians were making a coordinated effort to ease the tensions raised by Rogozin.
“The answer is yes,” said Mr. Krikalev.
The exchange of seats will continue next year.
Andrey Fedyaev, another Russian cosmonaut, will be a member of Crew-6, SpaceX’s upcoming mission, planned for February.
The upcoming Soyuz mission, scheduled to launch in the spring, will also have NASA astronaut Laurel O’Hara on board.
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