Just a few years ago, the head of Russia's space program was openly taunting Elon Musk.
Showdown In Space
Things haven’t exactly been easygoing between the spacefaring American and Russian camps in recent months.
Despite years of Russian-Western cooperation aboard the International Space Station, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and the sanctions it incurred from the US and its allies — threatened to undo all that goodwill. From Russian cosmonauts using the ISS to spread anti-Ukraine propaganda to the now-ousted and ever controversial head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, seemingly threatening the ISS with an "uncontrolled deorbit," tensions have never been higher.
Rogozin in particular has been a thorn in the relationship, undercutting and taunting American space efforts at every turn. He’s also had a longstanding feud with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, whose rockets are now used by NASA to ferry astronauts and supplies to the ISS and back.
But following Rogozin’s dismissal from Roscosmos, the Russian space agency wasted no time in finalizing a long-in-the-works agreement with NASA that directly leverages its former foe: Russian cosmonauts will now fly to the ISS aboard SpaceX spacecraft.
Turning the Page
The move may mark a much-needed reboot in the soured relations between NASA and Roscosmos.
NASA stressed the importance of integrated crew flights in a press release, stating that "flying integrated crews ensures there are appropriately trained crew members on board the station for essential maintenance and spacewalks."
After all, the ISS relies on the help of multiple space agencies, including Russia's, for upkeep.
Aboard SpaceX's Crew-5, cosmonauts Andrei Fedyaev and Anna Kikina — Russia’s only woman spacefarer — will share controls with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata. The mission is currently scheduled to launch sometime this September.
Meanwhile, NASA astronauts Frank Rubio and Loral O’Hara were selected to fly aboard the Soyuz MS-22 in separate flights. Rubio will fly alongside cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin in an expedition to the ISS which is set to launch on September 21 this year, with O’Hara following suit in spring 2023.
We'll have to see how relations continue to develop now that Rogozin's out of the picture, but for now it seems like a small step in the right direction.
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