An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are scheduled to blast off to the International Space Station on Wednesday for a Russian-operated flight despite escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
NASA’s Frank Rubio, Russia’s Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin are scheduled to take off from Russia’s chartered Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1354 GMT, according to Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.
Rubio will become the first US astronaut to travel to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket since President Vladimir Putin sent troops to pro-Western Ukraine on February 24.
In response, Western capitals, including Washington, imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow, and bilateral relations plunged to new lows.
However, the space has managed to remain outside the scope of cooperation between the two countries.
After Rubio’s flight, Russia’s only active astronaut Anna Kekina is expected to travel to the orbital station in early October aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon.
She will become the fifth professional astronaut from Russia or the Soviet Union to fly into space, and the first Russian to fly aboard a SpaceX spacecraft, the company of American billionaire Elon Musk.
With both flights beginning, Russian cosmonauts and Western cosmonauts have sought to distance themselves from the raging conflict on Earth, especially when they are in orbit together.
In cooperation between the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, the International Space Station is divided into two parts: the American orbital segment and the Russian orbital segment.
Russia’s exit from the International Space Station
At present, the International Space Station relies on the Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above sea level, with the American portion responsible for electricity and life support systems.
However, tensions rose in the space sphere after Washington announced sanctions against Moscow’s aerospace industry – prompting warnings from former Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin, an ardent supporter of the Ukraine war.
Rogozin’s newly appointed successor, Yuri Borisov, later confirmed Russia’s long-awaited move to leave the International Space Station after 2024 in favor of creating its own orbital station.
The US space agency (NASA) described the decision as an “unfortunate development” that would impede scientific work being conducted on the International Space Station.
Space analysts say it could take more than a decade to build a new orbital station, and the Russian space industry – a point of national pride – will not be able to thrive under heavy sanctions.
The International Space Station was launched in 1998 at a time of hope for cooperation between the United States and Russia after the competition of the space race during the Cold War.
During that era, the Soviet space program flourished. It achieved a number of accomplishments, including sending the first human into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier.
But experts say Roscosmos is now a shadow of what it once was and has in recent years suffered a series of setbacks, including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.
Russia’s long-running monopoly on manned flights to the International Space Station has also ended, to SpaceX, along with millions of dollars in revenue.
© 2022 AFP
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