On Friday, two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut successfully rendezvoused with the International Space Station, launching from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft. This event occurred amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington regarding the Ukraine crisis.
Just three hours after liftoff, the crew safely docked at the ISS, as confirmed by the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. On the space station, they will join three Russian cosmonauts, two American astronauts, a Japanese astronaut, and a representative from the European Space Agency.
This space journey occurred following the recent failure of Russia’s first lunar mission in nearly half a century. It’s worth noting that the ISS remains a notable platform for cooperation between the United States and Russia, even amid the strained relations stemming from Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
During a pre-flight press conference on Thursday, cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko subtly referred to the diplomatic tensions, emphasizing the camaraderie and mutual support among astronauts and cosmonauts in space, where communication and collaboration are essential.
Aboard the ISS, astronaut Loral O’Hara spoke highly of the station’s “legacy” in fostering international cooperation and expressed her excitement about joining her crewmates.
Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub were scheduled to spend a year on the ISS, while Loral O’Hara was set for a six-month mission. Notably, this was the first space mission for both Chub and O’Hara, with Chub revealing that space travel had been his lifelong dream.
This new crew replaces the previous team, consisting of Russians Dmitry Petelin and Sergey Prokopyev, along with NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who spent a year aboard the ISS. Their return, initially planned for March, was delayed due to a coolant leak on their Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, attributed to suspected tiny meteoroid damage. They are now expected to return to Earth on the MS-23, according to Roscosmos.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been exploring opportunities for space collaboration with China as Western criticism and sanctions against Russia escalate due to its actions in Ukraine. Putin recently hosted North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, at the Vostochny spaceport in Russia’s Far East, where they discussed the possibility of sending a North Korean astronaut into space.
In a significant setback, Russia’s Luna-25 module crashed on the Moon’s surface during pre-landing maneuvers last month. This incident was a considerable embarrassment for Moscow, as the mission aimed to signify Russia’s renewed lunar exploration efforts, despite financial challenges and corruption scandals, amid its growing estrangement from Western space endeavors. It’s noteworthy that Russia’s last successful lunar probe landing took place in 1976 before the country shifted its focus to missions to Venus and the development of the Mir space station.