A Soyuz rocket with two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut on board docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, a rare work of cooperation in a period of tension between Russia and the United States.
The rocket took off as planned at 15:44 GMT into a dark night sky from the Russian Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with a crew on board including veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Konokenko and his comrade Nikolai Tchoub as well as astronaut NASA Loral O'Hara. The latter two are making their first flight into space.
It reached the ISS three hours later, the Russian space agency announced in a press release. This launch comes less than a month after the loss of the Russian lunar probe Luna-25, which crashed on the Moon in August, a failure which recalled the difficulties that the Russian space sector has been facing for years, between lack of funding and corruption scandals.
“It’s a very special moment and a very nice feeling to be part of something bigger than us and which has brought so many people together. I am excited about this mission,” Ms. O’Hara, 40, said Thursday at a news conference in Baikonur. “The atmosphere is good, the crew is ready to accomplish all the tasks entrusted to them,” said Nikolai Tchoub, 39 years old.
The three astronauts will take over from the Russians Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitri Peteline and the American Frank Rubio, who arrived aboard the ISS a year ago. Their mission had been extended due to the damage to their return ship, the Soyuz MS-22, which suffered a spectacular leak in December 2022 while docked with the ISS, due according to Moscow to the impact of a micrometeorite.
The Russian space agency therefore decided that it could only be used in an emergency, and chose to send the MS-23 spacecraft as a replacement. The space sector is one of the rare areas where there remains cooperation between Russia and the United States, in a context of high tensions due to the conflict in Ukraine.
American Loral O'Hara said Thursday that the ISS was "a symbol of peace and cooperation." “Unlike what happens on Earth […] where nations often do not get along, we get along well up there, we understand each other and we are very sensitive to our relationships. We always look out for each other,” added Mr. Konokenko, aged 59.