Last Russian flight to ISS with a US crew member takes off
Nasa has had to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to the ISS, but an $8bn programme enabled SpaceX’s first manned trip there in May
Washington/Almaty — A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying a US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday and successfully reached orbit, live footage broadcast by Russia’s space agency Roscosmos showed.
The crew members travelling to the International Space Station (ISS) are Kate Rubins, a Nasa microbiologist, who, in 2016, became the first person to sequence DNA in space; and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.
The mission is the last scheduled Russian flight carrying a US crew member.
Since the space shuttle programme ended in 2011, Nasa has relied on Russia to ferry its astronauts to the ISS, an orbiting laboratory 400km above Earth that has housed international crews of astronauts continuously for nearly 20 years.
In 2014, Nasa contracted Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing to build competing space capsules in an effort to reclaim its launch independence.
The $8bn programme enabled SpaceX’s first manned trip to the space station in May, marking the first from US soil in nearly a decade. Nasa has purchased additional crew seats from Russia as its public-private crew programme faced delays, with Rubins’ mission being the most recent.
The US is scheduled to begin operational missions on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.
“We have an incredible partnership,” Rubins said in an interview from Russia’s Star City before her flight. “We’ll continue to train crews over here and we’re going to have cosmonauts come to the Johnson Space Centre and train.”
Nasa and Roscosmos have committed to continue the flight-sharing partnership and are in talks to fly Russian astronauts on US vehicles and to fly US astronauts on Russian rockets when needed, a spokesperson for Roscosmos said.
“Of course, mutual flights are of interest for ISS reliability and continuous operations,” the spokesperson said. “This approach [mixed crew flights] will ensure delivery of the crew to the station, should a problem with the partner spacecraft occur.”
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