NASA and Russian space agency sign agreement to share space station flights


International Space Station (ISS) crew member Russian actress Yulia Peresild waves farewell as she boards the Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft for launch at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on October 5, 2021.

Andrey Shelepin | GCTC | Roscosmos | via Reuters

NASA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency have signed a long-standing agreement to integrate flights to the International Space Station, allowing Russian cosmonauts to fly on US-made spacecraft in exchange for the ability for US astronauts to board the Russian Soyuz, the agencies announced on Friday.

“The agreement is in the interests of Russia and the United States and will promote the development of cooperation within the framework of the ISS program,” Roscosmos said in a statement, adding that it will facilitate “the exploration of the ‘outer space for peaceful purposes’.

NASA and Roscosmos, primary partners on the two-decade-old space station, have sought for years to renew routine integrated crewed flights as part of the agencies’ longstanding civilian alliance, now the one of the last ties of cooperation between the United States and Russia as tensions erupt over the war in Ukraine.

The first integrated flights under the new agreement will take place in September, NASA announced, with US astronaut Frank Rubio launching to the space station from the leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Moscow, Kazakhstan, alongside two cosmonauts, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin.

In exchange, cosmonaut Anna Kikina will join two American astronauts and a Japanese astronaut on a SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to the orbiting lab, launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The two agencies previously shared astronaut seats on the US Shuttle and Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

After the shuttle was retired in 2011, the United States relied on Russia’s Soyuz to send American astronauts to the space station until 2020, when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule revived the manned spaceflight capability of NASA and began routine ISS flights from Florida.

Kikina, an engineer and the only woman in the active corps of Russian cosmonauts, is expected to be the first Russian to pilot SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. She trained for the mission at NASA Astronaut Headquarters in Houston while the deal was being negotiated.

The US space agency said having at least one Russian and one American aboard the space station was crucial for the lab to continue operating.

“Flying embedded crews ensure there are properly trained crew members aboard the station for essential maintenance and spacewalks,” NASA said in a statement Friday.

Shortly before the deal was announced, President Vladimir Putin replaced Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin with Yuri Borisov, a former deputy prime minister and deputy defense minister.

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