NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have signed an agreement to integrate flights to the International Space Station (ISS). It will allow Russian astronauts to fly on US-built spacecraft, while US astronauts will be able to ride on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, news agency Reuters reported.
Roscosmos said in a statement that “the agreement is in the interests of Russia and the United States and will promote the development of cooperation within the framework of the ISS program”. The Russian space agency said it would facilitate “exploration of outer space for peaceful purposes”.
NASA and Roscosmos are the main partners of the two-decade-old space station. For years, the US and Russian space agencies have sought to renew regular integrated crew flights to the ISS as part of their long-standing civilian alliance.
The first integrated flights under the new agreement will be in September
According to a Reuters report, NASA said that the first integrated flights under the new agreement will begin in September this year. US astronaut Frank Rubio will fly to the space station from the Moscow-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with two Russian cosmonauts, Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin.
Under the agreement, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina will fly to the space station with two American astronauts and a Japanese cosmonaut. They will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the orbital laboratory.
Kikina is an engineer and the only woman in Russia’s active Cosmonaut Corps, and is set to become the first Russian to fly SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. While negotiations were underway, Kikina was training for the mission at NASA’s Astronaut Headquarters in Houston.
NASA and Roscosmos previously shared astronaut seats on American shuttles and Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
‘Launch America’ revives NASA’s human spaceflight capability
After the retirement of the US shuttle in 2011, the US relied on Russia’s Soyuz to send American astronauts to the ISS by 2020. In May 2020, NASA and SpaceX created history by launching the first manned spacecraft through a government-private partnership. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were launched to the space station as part of the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission, also known as Launch America.
Astronauts blast off into space aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Launch America revived NASA’s human spaceflight capability and began regular space station flights from Florida.
According to NASA, having at least one Russian and one American on the space station is critical to keeping the orbital outpost running.
The integrated crew flight ensures that the station has appropriately trained crew members for necessary maintenance and spacewalks, NASA said in a statement Friday.
As Reuters reports, shortly before the agreement was announced, Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin with Yuri Borisov. Borisov is a former Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Defense Minister.