NASA, Roscosmos Astronauts Set to Blast Off for ISS on Soyuz Rocket Amid Tensions Over Ukraine Conflict
NASA’s Frank Rubio will be the first American astronaut to travel to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz rocket since President Vladimir Putin launched troops into Ukraine on February 24.
Despite rising tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are set to launch to the International Space Station on a Russian-operated flight on Wednesday.
According to Russian space agency Roscosmos, NASA’s Frank Rubio and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin are scheduled to take off from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1354 GMT (7:24pm IST).
Rubio will be the first American astronaut to travel to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz rocket since President Vladimir Putin launched troops into pro-Western Ukraine on February 24.
As a result, Western capitals, including Washington, have imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow, and bilateral ties have reached new lows.
However, space cooperation between the two countries has remained an outlier.
Following Rubio’s flight, Russia’s only active female cosmonaut Anna Kikina is scheduled to fly to the orbital station aboard a 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 to fly aboard a SpaceX spacecraft, owned by US billionaire Elon Musk.
With both flights scheduled to take place, Russian cosmonauts and Western astronauts have sought to avoid the conflict that is raging on Earth, particularly when in orbit together.
The International Space Station (ISS) is a collaboration between the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency, and Russia. It is divided into two sections: the US Orbital Segment and the Russian Orbital Segment.
Russia is leaving the International Space Station.
The ISS currently relies on a Russian propulsion system to keep it in orbit, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above sea level, with the US segment in charge of electricity and life support systems.
However, tensions in space have risen since Washington imposed sanctions on Moscow’s aerospace industry, prompting warnings from Russia’s former space chief Dmitry Rogozin, a staunch supporter of the Ukraine war.
Yuri Borisov, Rogozin’s recently appointed successor, later confirmed Russia’s long-rumored decision to leave the ISS after 2024 in favor of building its own orbital station.
NASA, the US space agency, called the decision an “unfortunate development” that would impede scientific work on the ISS.
According to space analysts, building a new orbital station could take more than a decade, and Russia’s space industry, a source of national pride, would be unable to thrive under harsh sanctions.
The ISS was launched in 1998, at a time of optimism for US-Russia cooperation following their Cold War Space Race competition.
The Soviet space program flourished during that time period. Its achievements included sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier.
However, experts say Roscosmos is now a shadow of its former self, having suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.
Russia’s years-long monopoly on manned flights to the International Space Station has also passed to SpaceX, along with millions of dollars in revenue.
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