For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine, a joint Russian-American mission is launched. Two Russians and an American fly together to the international space station ISS in times of great political tension.
The American Frank Rubio and the two Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopjew and Dmitri Petelin will fly into space together today, Wednesday, in times of great political tension. On board a Soyuz rocket, they are scheduled to take off at 3:54 p.m. CEST from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in the steppes of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Central Asia, according to the Russian space agency Roskosmos.
It is the first joint flight since the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine began on February 24. The Russian space agency Roskosmos announced in July that it would phase out operations on the ISS after 2024. "Of course we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to exit this station after 2024 has been made," said the new Roskosmos boss Yuri Borissov at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the time.
The crew also has 120 kilograms of resupply material for the ISS on board, including hygiene and medical supplies, scientific apparatus and personal belongings of the cosmonauts. 46-year-old Rubio said in Baikonur he was looking forward to the view of Earth from up there. He was excited about the "darkness and what the stars look like from there".
Rubio had already said in advance that space travel was an opportunity to achieve something together, even in times of political tension. The crew did not talk about the war beforehand, but mainly about personal things and the everyday life of astronauts. Everyone made it clear that they would miss their families most of all during the six months on the ISS.
The two cosmonauts Prokopyev and Petelin travel with Rubio in a Soyuz MS-22 space capsule in a three-hour flight to the outpost of mankind. In October, the Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina is to fly from the USA to the ISS on board a "Crew Dragon" capsule from Elon Musk's company SpaceX. The flights should give hope that the cooperation on the ISS will continue for years to come. Russia had recently announced that it would exit the project after 2024, but did not give a date.
The Russian invasion is putting additional strain on already difficult relations between Moscow and Washington. Russia complains that the sanctions imposed by the USA and the EU in the wake of the war are making space work more difficult, including the production of missiles that can also be used militarily. The ousted Roskosmos boss Dmitri Rogozin had repeatedly questioned cooperation with the USA, also in view of the serious political tensions between Moscow and Washington in the course of the war.
Before the start of the 68th ISS mission, cosmonaut Prokopyev said: "The program is pretty full - in addition to quick docking, five exits into space are planned." In addition, 48 experiments are planned, including working with a 3D printer in zero gravity. The plan is therefore to print different figures out of different materials. This could possibly lead to a new generation of 3D printers in the future.
While it is Prokopyev's second flight into space, Petelin and Rubio fly for the first time. Prokopyev said: "We all play football. We will surely find a ball in space." He himself has played tennis and badminton in zero gravity. Otherwise, the daily routine is the same as on Earth: work during the day, night rest is from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. "I sleep better than on Earth," said the 47-year-old.
The three astronauts will not be alone on the ISS at a height of around 400 kilometers above the earth. The commander of the 67th expedition, Oleg Artemyev, the cosmonauts Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov as well as the NASA astronauts Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, Jessica Watkins and the Italian Samantha Cristoforetti from the European space agency ESA are already on board.