NASA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, have signed an agreement to integrate flights to the International Space Station (ISS). This will allow Russian cosmonauts to fly on US-made spacecraft, while American 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 added that it will facilitate “the exploration of outer space for peaceful purposes”.
NASA and Roscosmos are the two-decade-old space station’s core partners. For years, the US and Russian space agencies have sought to renew routine integrated crewed flights to the ISS as part of their long-standing civil alliance.
First Integrated Flights Under New Agreement To Take Place In September
According to the Reuters report, NASA said that the first integrated flights under the new agreement will take off in September this year. US astronaut Frank Rubio will be flying to the space station from the Moscow-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan alongside two Russian cosmonauts, Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin.
Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina will be flying to the space station with two US astronauts and a Japanese astronaut as part of the agreement. They will be launched to the orbital laboratory from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Kikina is an engineer and the only woman in Russia’s active cosmonaut corps, and is set to be the first Russian to fly SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. While the agreement was under negotiation, Kikina had been training for the mission at NASA’s astronaut headquarters in Houston.
NASA and Roscosmos had previously shared astronaut seats on the US shuttle and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
‘Launch America’ Revived NASA’s Human Spaceflight Capacity
After the retirement of the US shuttle in 2011, the US relied on Russia’s Soyuz for sending American astronauts to the ISS until 2020. In May 2020, NASA and SpaceX created history by launching the first human spaceflight 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 called Launch America.
The astronauts blasted off into space aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Launch America revived NASA’s human spaceflight capability and began routine space station flights from Florida.
According to NASA, having at least one Russian and one American aboard the space station is crucial to keeping the orbital outpost running.
NASA said in a statement on Friday that flying integrated crew ensures there are appropriately trained crew members on board the station for essential maintenance and spacewalks.
According to the Reuters report, the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, replaced the head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, with Yuri Borisov, shortly before the agreement was announced. Borisov is a former deputy prime minister and deputy defence minister.