A US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are due to fly to the International Space Station on Wednesday on a Russian-operated flight despite rising tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
NASA’s Frank Rubio and Russia’s Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin are scheduled to lift off from Russia’s leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 13:54 GMT, according to Russian space agency Roscosmos.
Rubio will become the first American astronaut to travel to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket since President Vladimir Putin sent troops to pro-Western Ukraine on February 24.
In response, Western capitals, including Washington, hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions and bilateral relations hit new lows.
However, space has managed to remain an outlier of cooperation between the two countries.
After Rubio’s flight, Russia’s only active cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, is scheduled to travel to the orbital station in early October aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon.
She will become only the fifth professional female cosmonaut from Russia or the Soviet Union to fly in space, and the first Russian to fly aboard a spacecraft from SpaceX, the company of American billionaire Elon Musk.
With both flights set to continue, Russian cosmonauts and Western astronauts have sought to avoid the conflict raging on Earth, especially when orbiting together.
The result of a collaboration between the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, the ISS is divided into two sections: the American orbital segment and the Russian orbital segment.
Russia leaves the ISS
Currently, the ISS depends on a Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit, about 400 kilometers above sea level, with the American segment responsible for power and life support systems.
However, space tensions rose after Washington announced sanctions against Moscow’s aerospace industry, prompting warnings from former Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin, a staunch supporter of war in Ukraine. .
Rogozin’s recently appointed successor, Yuri Borisov, later confirmed Russia’s longstanding decision to leave the ISS after 2024 in favor of establishing its own orbital station.
US space agency NASA called the move an “unfortunate development” that would hamper scientific work being carried out on the ISS.
Space analysts say building a new orbital station could take more than a decade and Russia’s space industry – a point of national pride – could not thrive under heavy sanctions.
The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of hope for US-Russian cooperation after their Space Race competition during the Cold War.
At this time, the Soviet space program flourished. He boasted of a number of achievements, including sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier.
But experts say Roscosmos is now a shadow of its former self and has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other craft. spatial.
Russia’s years-long monopoly on manned spaceflight to the ISS is also gone, for SpaceX, with millions of dollars in revenue.