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An American and two Russians bound for the ISS in full offensive in Ukraine

American astronauts Frank Rubio and Russians Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitri Peteline, in Baikonur (Kazakhstan) on September 20, 2022Dmitry LOVETSKY

An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are due to take off on Wednesday for the International Space Station (ISS), a trip that represents a rare sign of cooperation amid tensions linked to the offensive in Ukraine.

NASA’s Frank Rubio as well as Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitri Peteline of the Russian space agency Roscosmos are due to take off aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Russian Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:54 p.m. GMT.

Mr. Rubio is the first American astronaut to travel to the ISS aboard a Russian rocket since the start of the entry of troops from Moscow into Ukraine on February 24.

The West adopted an unprecedented series of sanctions against Moscow and relations, already strained since 2014, sank to an all-time low. The space industry was also targeted, but space remained, somehow, an area of ​​cooperation between Moscow and Washington.

After Wednesday’s flight, Anna Kikina, Russia’s only female cosmonaut in active service, is due to travel to the orbital laboratory for the first time in early October aboard a Crew Dragon rocket from the American company SpaceX.

She will be the fifth Russian female professional cosmonaut to go into space, and the first woman to fly aboard a ship from billionaire Elon Musk’s firm.

With these two planned flights, the astronauts and cosmonauts of each country, in particular those having to go into orbit, wanted to stay away from the tensions caused by the conflict which rages on Earth.

The result of a collaboration between the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, the ISS is divided into two segments: an American and a Russian.

– Moscow will leave the ISS –

The ISS currently depends on a Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit, some 400 kilometers above sea level, while the American segment handles electricity and life support systems.

Space tensions rose after Washington announced sanctions against Russia’s aerospace industry, prompting warnings from Russia’s former space chief and unconditional supporter of the intervention in Ukraine, Dmitry Rogozine.

Mr Rogozin’s recently appointed successor, Yuri Borissov, later confirmed Russia’s decision to leave the ISS after 2024 in favor of establishing its own orbital station. However, he has not set a specific date.

The US space agency called the move an “unfortunate development” that will hamper scientific work on the ISS.

According to experts in the field of space, the construction of a new orbital station could take more than ten years in Moscow and the Russian space industry, which has been the pride of the country since the days of the USSR, could not survive. thrive under heavy penalties.

The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of hope for cooperation between the United States and Russia.

In Soviet times, the space program was flourishing, boasting major successes such as sending the first man into space in 1961, Yuri Gagarin, and launching the first satellite four years earlier, Sputnik.

Roscosmos, on the other hand, has suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks in recent years, from corruption scandals to the loss of several satellites and other spacecraft.

Russia also lost its years-long monopoly on human spaceflight to the ISS to SpaceX, representing a multi-million dollar shortfall in revenue.