Russian cosmonauts launch to the International Space Station on Friday

Crew members attend a press conference ahead of the expedition to the International Space Station at the Baikonur Cosmodrome
Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov pose for a photo during a news conference ahead of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS) at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan March 17, 2022. Roscosmos/Handout via REUTERS

March 18, 2022

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – Three Russian cosmonauts were scheduled to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, continuing a more than two-decade-long joint Russian-US presence aboard the orbiting outpost, despite heightened terrestrial tensions between Moscow and Washington.

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying the new cosmonaut team was scheduled to lift off from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1555 GMT (11:55 a.m. Eastern Time) to begin a more than three-hour journey to the space station.

Soyuz Commander Oleg Artemyev will lead the team along with two space rookies, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, on a science mission aboard the ISS that is expected to last six and a half months.

They will join the station’s current crew of seven, replacing three who are scheduled to fly back to Earth on March 30 – cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov, and US NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei.

By the time he returns to Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz capsule with his two fellow cosmonauts, Vande Hei will have logged a NASA-record 355 days in orbit.

Three NASA astronauts – Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron – and German crewmate Matthias Maurer from the European Space Agency will stay with the newcomers until the next rotation a few months later.

These four crew members arrived together in November aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon aircraft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin a six-month stay in orbit.

Launched in 1998 and orbiting about 400km above the Earth, the research platform has been manned continuously since November 2000 while being operated by a US-Russian-led partnership that includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.


The latest change in ISS personnel comes at a time when the durability of longstanding US-Russia cooperation in space is being tested by the heightened antagonism between the two former Cold War adversaries over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As part of US economic sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration last month, US President Joe Biden ordered high-tech export restrictions against Moscow that he said were aimed at threatening Russia’s aerospace industry, including its space program , to “degrade”.

Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, immediately lashed out in a series of tweets that US sanctions could “destroy” ISS teamwork and cause the space station itself to fall out of orbit.

A week later, Rogozin retaliated by announcing that Russia would stop supplying or servicing Russian-made rocket engines used by two US aerospace-NASA suppliers and suggesting that US astronauts use “broomsticks.” could in order to get into orbit.

Around the same time, Moscow said it had halted joint ISS research with Germany and forced the 11-hour cancellation of a British satellite launch from Baikonur.

The Roscosmos chief also said last month that Russia is suspending its cooperation with European launch operations at Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana.

The ISS itself arose in part from a foreign policy initiative to improve US-Russian relations after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Cold War hostilities that fueled the original US-Soviet space race.

But Rogozin’s recent actions have prompted some in the US space industry to reconsider the NASA-Roscosmos partnership.

Ann Kapusta, executive director of the nonprofit space advocacy Space Frontier Foundation, recently told Reuters in a statement that the United States should end its ISS collaboration with Russia.

Kapusta, a former head of ISS research operations for NASA, said Rogozin’s “toxic behavior” “shows that there is no distance between Roscosmos and Putin’s war machine” and that Russia can no longer be trusted to cooperate safely in space.

For their part, NASA officials insist that the US and Russian ISS crews, while aware of what was happening on Earth, were still working together in a professional manner and that geopolitical tensions had not infected the space station.

NASA chief Bill Nelson said Monday in a video “City Hall” in front of the 60,000 US space agency employees: “NASA continues to work with all of our international partners, including State Space Corporation Roscosmos, for the continued safe operations” of the space station.

NASA released a fact sheet this week outlining the technical interdependence of the US and Russian segments of the space station.

For example, while US gyroscopes are taking day-to-day control of the ISS’s pointing in space and US solar arrays are boosting power to the Russian module, Russia is providing the propulsion used to keep the station in orbit.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Jason Neely) Russian cosmonauts launch to the International Space Station on Friday

Bobby Allyn

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