It’s official: SpaceX will soon begin flying Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Cosmonaut Anna Kikina will be part of the Crew-5 mission which will launch this fall. Several American astronauts will take off again aboard Soyuz capsules.
A new agreement despite the tensions
NASA has just announced that it has signed an agreement with the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos to swap seats on spacecraft traveling to and from the ISS. NASA astronauts will fly aboard the Russian Soyuz capsule as they have done so many times, while cosmonauts will board private american vehicles.
Remember that NASA has made a commitment with SpaceX and its Crew Dragon capsule, but also with Boeing and its Starliner capsule. For the time being, however, Starliner has still not flown astronauts to the orbital complex.
Cosmonaut Anna Kikina will begin this new agreement as part of the crew-5 mission from SpaceX. The rest of the crew will be made up of Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada from NASA and Koichi Wakata from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Takeoff is scheduled for september.
Cosmonaut Andrei Fedyaev will be assigned to the Crew-6 mission from SpaceX, which is slated for launch next spring. He will be accompanied by astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg. The fourth crew member has yet to be announced.
On the American side, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will join the ISS aboard the Russian Soyuz. He will be accompanied by cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin for a mission scheduled to launch on September 21. NASA’s Loral O’Hara has been assigned to another Soyuz mission scheduled for spring 2023. She will be accompanied by cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub.
Change on the Russian side
This new agreement comes as many space partnerships involving Russia and the West have dissolved following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian-made rocket engines, for example, are no longer sold to American companies. Russian rockets also no longer fly from the European spaceport in Guyana. However, after more than twenty years of collaboration, Russia continues to be an integral part of the ISS.
This does not necessarily mean that the atmosphere is good on board the orbital complex. Earlier this month, three Russian cosmonauts unfurled from the station the flags of the self-proclaimed breakaway territories of Lugansk and Donetsk, Ukraine, prompting condemnation from NASA and other program partners.
In addition, Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, recently said that he had asked ISS cosmonauts to stop using a European robotic arm that is part of the Russian Nauka module. He was finally removed from office by Vladimir Putin on July 15 by decree. The Russian President has just appointed Yuri Borisov in his place. The latter had been Russian deputy prime minister since 2018 and previously served as deputy defense minister.