In a rare example of cooperation between Moscow and Washington, an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts on Wednesday left for the International Space Station (ISS) on a Russian-powered flight.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos and NASA both distributed live footage of the launch from Kazakhstan and commentators speaking on the feed said it was stable and “the crew is feeling well”.
NASA’s Frank Rubio and Russia’s Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin make up the crew launched from Russia’s leased Baikonur Cosmodrome at 1354 GMT.
Rubio is the first American astronaut to travel to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz rocket, since President Vladimir Putin sent troops to western Ukraine on February 24.
In response, Western capitals, including Washington, have hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions and plunging bilateral ties to new levels.
Space remained an outlier of cooperation between the two countries.
Anna Kikina, Russia’s only active female astronaut, is expected to travel to the orbital station aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon in early October.
She will be only the fifth professional female cosmonaut from Russia or the Soviet Union to fly into space, and the first Russian woman to board a spacecraft from billionaire Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.
Russian cosmonauts and Western cosmonauts have tried to stay away from the conflict that is raging back on Earth, especially when in orbit together.
A collaboration between the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, the ISS is divided into two segments: the US orbital segment and the Russian orbital segment.
Russia ISS. Leaving
Currently, the ISS relies on a Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit, which is about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above sea level, with the American segment responsible for power and life support systems.
Tensions have risen in the space sector after Washington announced sanctions on Moscow’s aerospace industry – prompting warnings from former Russia space chief Dmitry Rogozin, a staunch supporter of the Ukraine war.
Rogozin’s recently appointed successor, Yuri Borisov, later confirmed Russia’s long-standing move to leave the ISS after 2024 in favor of building its own orbital station.
US space agency NASA called the decision an “unfortunate development” that would hinder scientific work on the ISS.
Space analysts say it could take more than a decade to build a new orbital station and that Russia’s space industry – a point of national pride – will not flourish under heavy sanctions.
The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of hope for US-Russia cooperation after the Space Race competition during the Cold War.
During that era, the Soviet space program flourished. It boasted of several achievements which included sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years ago.
Experts say Roscosmos is now a shadow of its former self and has suffered several setbacks in recent years, including corruption scandals and the loss of several satellites and other spacecraft.
Russia’s years-long monopoly on manned flights to the ISS has passed on to SpaceX as well, along with millions of dollars in revenue.
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