In Space, U.S.-Russian Cooperation Finds a Way Forward

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When SpaceX next launches a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station, one of the astronauts aboard will be Russian.

NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, announced on Friday that they had reached an agreement that would give Russian astronauts seats on American-built spacecraft in exchange for NASA astronauts’ getting rides to orbit on Russian Soyuz rockets.

Also on Friday, Russian president Vladimir V. Putin signed a decree dismissing Dmitry Rogozin, who since 2016 had led Roscosmos, the state corporation that oversees Russia’s space activities.

Russians and Americans in orbit have sustained their close cooperation despite the fracturing of ties between the two countries after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. The relationship also endured Mr. Rogozin’s repeated belligerent pronouncements in the Russian news media and on his Twitter and Telegram accounts.

In April, Mr. Rogozin demanded that economic sanctions against Russia be lifted and said that he had submitted a proposal urging the Russian government to leave the space station.

This week, after the European Space Agency formally pulled out of a collaboration with Russia on sending a robotic rover to Mars, Mr. Rogozin said Russian astronauts on the space station would stop using a robotic arm built by the Europeans and lobbed disparaging words at Josef Aschbacher, the director general of the European Space agency, and Josep Borrell Fontelles, a top European Union foreign policy official.

“I, in turn, give a command to our crew on the ISS to stop working with the European ERA manipulator,” Mr. Rogozin wrote on his Telegram channel. “Let Aschbacher himself and his boss Borrell fly into space and do at least something useful in their lives.”

Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, insisted that the move had nothing to do with Mr. Rogozin’s performance and promised that the former director would soon be employed again.

“This is not connected with any issues,” Mr. Peskov said Friday, according to the Russian state news media. “In due time, Rogozin will be employed and will start a new job.”

Mr. Rogozin’s successor will be Yuri Borisov, who takes over Roscosmos after his own ousting as the deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s military industrial complex. Mr. Borisov is a longtime government official who also previously served as a deputy defense minister. Unlike Mr. Rogozin, he is not known for being a firebrand in public.

NASA officials have been steadfast in insisting that operations on the space station remain normal, usually letting Mr. Rogozin’s comments pass without comment.

Last week, however, NASA put out a statement rebuking Russia after Roscosmos distributed photographs of the three Russian astronauts on the space station holding the flags of pro-Russia separatists in two provinces of Ukraine.

On Friday, NASA resumed highlighting the cooperation.

“Flying integrated crews ensures there are appropriately trained crew members on board the station for essential maintenance and spacewalks,” NASA said in a statement. “It also protects against contingencies such as a problem with any crew spacecraft, serious crew medical issues or an emergency aboard the station that requires a crew and the vehicle they are assigned to return to Earth sooner than planned.”

For example, without the crew swap agreement, if a problem grounded new Soyuz launches, then at some point, all of the Russian astronauts on the station would return to Earth, leaving the Russian-built segment of the station untended. That could put all of the station in danger.

“The station was designed to be interdependent and relies on contributions from each space agency to function,” NASA said. “No one agency has the capability to function independent of the others.”

Under the agreement, there is no exchange of money between NASA and Roscosmos.

From 2006 to 2020, NASA had paid Russia an average of $56 million a seat to take 71 astronauts to the space station. After the retirement of NASA’s space shuttles in 2011, the Soyuz was the only way NASA astronauts could go to orbit. That need ended when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft became operational in 2020.

Anna Kikina, a Russian astronaut, will join two NASA astronauts, Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, and Koichi Wakata of Japan aboard Crew-5, the next SpaceX mission to the space station, currently scheduled for September. Another Russian astronaut, Andrei Fedyaev, is scheduled to be a member of the crew of the following SpaceX mission in spring next year.

NASA astronauts, starting with Frank Rubio and Loral O’Hara, will be part of the crews on upcoming Soyuz launches.

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