An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts have arrived safely at the International Space Station (ISS) after taking off on a Russian-operated flight in a rare example of cooperation between Moscow and Washington.
Russia’s Roscosmos space agency and Nasa both broadcast live footage of the launch from Kazakhstan on Wednesday, and commenters speaking on the wire said the crew “felt great.”
Nasa’s Frank Rubio and Russians Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin were the crew that took off from the Russian-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome at 13:54 GMT.
The three will spend six months on the ISS with three other Russian cosmonauts, three other American astronauts and an Italian.
Rubio is the first American astronaut to travel to the ISS aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24. In response, Western capitals, including Washington, hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions and bilateral relations plummeted to new lows.
Space is one of the latest areas of cooperation between the United States and Russia. Russia’s only female cosmonaut, Anna Kikina, is scheduled to travel to the orbital station in early October aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon.
Kikina will become only the fifth professional female cosmonaut from Russia or the Soviet Union to go into space, and the first Russian to fly aboard a SpaceX spacecraft, from the company of billionaire Elon Musk.
Russian cosmonauts and Western astronauts have sought to avoid the conflict raging on Earth, especially when orbiting together.
The result of a collaboration between the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, the ISS is divided into two sections: the American orbital segment and the Russian orbital segment.
Currently, the ISS depends on a Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit, about 250 miles above sea level, with the US segment responsible for power and life support.
Space tensions have risen since Washington announced sanctions against Moscow’s aerospace industry – triggering warnings from former Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin, a staunch supporter of war in Ukraine.
Rogozin’s recently appointed successor, Yury Borisov, later confirmed Russia’s longstanding decision to leave the ISS after 2024 in favor of establishing its own orbital station. The US space agency, NASA, called the move an “unfortunate development” that would hamper scientific work on the ISS.
Space analysts say building a new orbital station could take more than a decade and Russia’s space industry – a point of national pride – could not thrive under heavy sanctions.
The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of hope for US-Russian cooperation after their Cold War space race competition.
Around this time, the Soviet space program exploded. He boasted of a number of achievements, including sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier.
Experts say Roscosmos has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.
Russia’s years-long monopoly on crewed flights to the ISS is also gone, for SpaceX, with millions of dollars in revenue.