NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, have agreed to integrate trips to the International Space Station, enabling Russian cosmonauts to fly on American-built rockets in return for American astronauts being allowed to go on Russia’s Soyuz, the two organizations said on Friday. In a statement, Roscosmos said that the agreement is “in the interests of Russia and the United States and will foster the expansion of collaboration within the scope of the ISS program,” adding that it would make it easier to “explore outer space for peaceful reasons.”
One of the last threads of cooperation between the United States and Russia as tensions over the war in Ukraine soar is the routine integrated crewed flights that NASA and Roscosmos, the space station’s core partners, have sought to renew for years. The space station has been in operation for two decades. According to NASA, the first integrated missions under the new agreement will take place in September, when two cosmonauts, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, will launch to the space station with American astronaut Frank Rubio.
In return, cosmonaut Anna Kikina will go to the orbiting laboratory with two American astronauts and a Japanese astronaut on a SpaceX Crew Dragon trip that takes out from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On the American shuttle and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the two agencies have previously shared astronaut berths.
Prior to 2020, when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule restored NASA’s human spaceflight capacity and started regular ISS flights from Florida, the United States depended on Russia’s Soyuz to transport American astronauts to the space station after the shuttle’s retirement in 2011.
Engineer Kikina will be the first Russian to fly SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft; she is also the only female cosmonaut currently serving Russia. While the arrangement was being negotiated, she was preparing for the trip at NASA’s astronaut center in Houston.
According to the American space agency, maintaining the laboratory requires at least one American and one Russian to be on board the space station.
According to a statement released by NASA on Friday, “flying integrated crews guarantees there are suitably qualified crew members on board the station for necessary maintenance and spacewalks.” President Vladimir Putin appointed Yuri Borisov, a former deputy prime minister, and deputy defense minister, to lead Roscosmos just before the deal was made public. Dmitry Rogozin had previously held both positions.