Despite serious tensions in U.S.-Russian diplomatic relations, a U.S. astronaut was in Kazakhstan with two Russian cosmonauts on a Soyuz spacecraft and rocketed into orbit on Wednesday on a two-orbit flight to the International Space Station.
Commander Sergey Prokopyev in the control area, with co-pilot Dmitry Petelin on the left and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio on the right ), the Soyuz 2.1a rocket whizzed past at 9:54 a.m. ET (6:54 p.m. local time) and climbed smoothly from the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
In the cockpit video, all three crew members appear relaxed as they monitor the instruments, marking the milestone of reaching orbit. Eight minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff, the Soyuz separated from the third stage of the booster, the solar panels deployed, and the spacecraft set off behind the space station.
The launch was timed to enable a quick two-orbit rendezvous procedure, allowing Prokopyev and his crew to catch up with the orbital outpost more than three hours after launch. The rendezvous went well and the Soyuz slid into the Earth-facing port of the Rassvet module at 1:06 p.m. ET.
“We saw a spectacular launch of #Soyuz!” tweeted space station astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. “Sergey, Dmitry and Frank will be knocking on our door in a few hours…looking forward to welcoming them to their new home!”
Expedition 67 commanders Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov stood by to welcome them, who launched aboard the Soyuz MS-21/67S ferry last March. Also on the ISS: SpaceX Crew 4 commander Kjell Lindgren and his three crew members Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency astronaut Cristoforetti.
Rubio will be part of the US-sponsored crew, although he will remain a member of the Soyuz MS-22/68S crew. His seat is the first under a new agreement between NASA and Roscosmos to resume launching astronauts aboard the Soyuz and begin carrying astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The goal is to ensure that one crew member from each country is always on the space station, even if a Soyuz or NASA ferry is forced to leave early in an emergency, bringing its crew back to Earth with it.
“From an ISS perspective, I think it’s very important because it gives us the redundancy and the ability to deal with unexpected situations,” Rubio said in a pre-launch interview with CBS News. “Essentially, it gives us a backup plan.”
The arrival of the new Soyuz crew sets a carefully choreographed sequence to replace all seven members of the station’s existing crew.
If all goes well, Artemyev, Korsakov and Matveyev will return to Earth on September 29, landing on the Kazakh steppe, ending their 194-day mission.
Four days later, Crew Dragon Endurance, carrying Crew 5 commander Nicole Mann, pilot Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, is scheduled to launch from Florida. Including the manned test flight, the launch will mark SpaceX’s seventh crewed space station mission.
After a week-long handover to help them familiarize themselves with space station operations, Lindgren, Hines, Watkins and Cristoforetti will depart and return to Earth in their own Crew Dragon – Freedom – on October 10 to wrap up a 166-day mission from launch. Mission last April.
Kikina is the first astronaut assigned to a Crew Dragon flight since the space shuttle Endeavour carried one astronaut to the space station and brought two others back to Earth in December 2002, and the first to fly in the U.S. man in spaceship. Kikina will live and work in part of Russia, although she will still be part of the SpaceX crew.
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft transported a joint crew to the laboratory complex between the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011 and the debut of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which began sending astronauts into orbit in 2020. These seats cost NASA up to $90 million each.
Over the past two years, NASA administrators have worked with their Russian counterparts to finalize a deal to begin bartering seats, sending one NASA astronaut aboard each Soyuz to the space station astronauts, and one astronaut on each Crew Dragon. No money changes hands because both parties benefit.
Since the crew has to launch and land in the same vehicle, a medical emergency or some other major issue could force a crew member to leave the space station and return to Earth earlier than planned. Seat swap agreements ensure that at least one NASA astronaut and one astronaut always operate their respective systems on the space station.
The Russians provide the propellant and rocket power needed to keep the station in orbit and dodge space debris, while NASA provides most of the lab’s power, near-continuous communications, and the large scale that keeps the outpost in the right direction. Gyro. The crew members were not cross-trained to operate each other’s systems.
Kikina is the first astronaut to fly under the recently signed seat swap agreement, while Rubio is the first American to fly on a Soyuz since astronaut Mark Vande Hei flew on the space station in April 2021.
The agreement took longer than expected because the Russians first wanted to assess the security of the Crew Dragon system, and then because of growing tensions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Rubio took the protracted negotiations in stride.
“It’s important to realize that the Apollo-Soyuz program, the Shuttle-Mir program, and now the collaboration on the International Space Station has a long history of more than 20 years,” he said.
“It’s just building camaraderie and trust in a very important way, especially in this moment of tension and other aspects. So I’m honored to represent our country and I’m proud to be here. I think it’s a What a good thing, it cannot be overemphasized.”