The Soyuz rocket with the crew on board was launched shortly before 4:00 p.m. (Swiss time) and ripped through the dark sky of the Kazakh steppes on the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in a trail of fire. “The stability is good (…), the crew feels good,” said a NASA commentator after the launch, broadcast live on the pages of the American and Russian space agencies.
The rocket with the American Frank Rubio from NASA and the Russians Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitry Peteline from the Russian space agency Roscosmos is to dock at the ISS after a three-hour journey into space. This Russian-American mission comes at a time when relations between Westerners and Russia, which sent troops to attack Ukraine on February 24, are at their lowest. In a major escalation of the conflict, President Vladimir Putin has just ordered a “partial mobilization” of the population while threatening to use nuclear weapons.
On the ISS property: “Private space stations are becoming even more international”
A station divided into two segments
Frank Rubio is the first American astronaut to fly to the ISS aboard a Russian rocket since the troops began invading Ukraine from Moscow. The crew is scheduled to spend six months aboard the orbital laboratory, where they will meet Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemiev, Denis Matveïev and Sergei Korsakov, American astronauts Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and Jessica Watkins, and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
As a result of collaboration between the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, the ISS is divided into two segments: American and Russian. It currently depends on a Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit some 400 kilometers above sea level, while the American segment handles power and life support systems.
After Wednesday’s flight, Anna Kikina, Russia’s only active-duty cosmonaut, is scheduled to travel to the orbital laboratory for the first time aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon rocket in early October. She will be the fifth Russian professional cosmonaut to fly into space and the first woman to fly aboard a ship owned by billionaire Elon Musk’s company.
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Moscow wants to leave the ISS
Space tensions rose after Washington announced sanctions against Russia’s aerospace industry, prompting warnings from Russia’s former space chief and staunch supporter of the intervention in Ukraine, Dmitry Rogozine. His recently appointed successor, Yuri Borissov, then confirmed Russia’s decision to leave the ISS after 2024 in favor of creating 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 space field, building a new orbital station in Moscow could take more than ten years, and Russia’s space industry, which has been the country’s pride since the days of the USSR, could not survive 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 thrived with major achievements such as sending the first human into space in 1961, Yuri Gagarin, and launching the first satellite, Sputnik, four years earlier. Roscosmos, on the other hand, has suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks in recent years, from corruption scandals to the loss of multiple satellites and other spacecraft. Russia has also lost its years-long monopoly on human spaceflight to the ISS to SpaceX, at a cost of millions of dollars in revenue.
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