In space, US-Russian cooperation is finding a way forward

The next time SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station, one of the astronauts on board will be Russian.

NASA and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, announced Friday that they reached an agreement that would give Russian astronauts seats on American-built spacecraft in exchange for NASA astronauts flying into orbit on Russian Soyuz rockets.

Also on Friday, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signed a decree sacking Dmitry Rogozin, who has headed Roscosmos, the state-owned company that oversees Russia’s space activities, since 2016.

Russians and Americans in orbit have continued their close cooperation despite the rupture in ties between the two countries after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. The relationship also endured Mr. Rogozin’s repeated belligerent statements in the Russian news media and on his Twitter and Telegram accounts.

In April, Mr. Rogozin called for the lifting of economic sanctions against Russia and said he had submitted a proposal asking the Russian government to abandon the space station.

This week, after the European Space Agency officially pulled out of any cooperation with Russia to send a robotic rover to Mars, Mr. Rogozin said Russian astronauts on the space station would stop using a European-built robotic arm, blaming Josef derogatory words to Aschbacher, Director-General of the European Space Agency, and Josep Borrell Fontelles, a senior foreign policy maker for the European Union.

“I, in turn, give the order to our crew on the ISS to stop working with the European ERA manipulator,” wrote Mr. Rogozin on his Telegram channel. “Let Aschbacher himself and his boss Borrell fly into space and at least do something meaningful in their lives.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov insisted that the change had nothing to do with Mr. Rogozin’s performance and promised to reinstate the former director soon.

“This is not associated with any problems,” Mr Peskov said on Friday, according to Russian state news media. “In due course, Rogozin will be hired and take up a new position.”

Mr Rogozin will be succeeded by Yuri Borisov, who after his own ouster will take over at Roskosmos as deputy prime minister overseeing Russia’s military-industrial complex. Mr Borisov is a longtime government official who also previously served as deputy defense minister. Unlike Mr. Rogozin, he is not known to the public for being an arsonist.

NASA officials have been steadfast in insisting that operations on the space station remain normal, and usually let Mr. Rogozin’s comments pass without comment.

However, last week NASA issued a statement rebuking Russia after Roscosmos distributed photos of the three Russian astronauts on the space station holding the flags of pro-Russian separatists in two provinces of Ukraine.

On Friday, NASA again highlighted the collaboration.

“Flying integrated crews ensures that there are appropriately trained crew members aboard the station for essential maintenance and spacewalks,” NASA said in a statement. “It also protects against contingencies such as a problem with a crew spacecraft, serious crew medical problems, or an emergency on board the station that requires a crew and their assigned vehicle to return to Earth earlier than planned.”

For example, without the crew swap agreement, if a problem resulted in new Soyuz launches being launched, then eventually all the Russian astronauts on the station would return to Earth, leaving the Russian-built portion of the station unattended. That could endanger the whole station.

“The station was designed to be interdependent and rely on contributions from each space agency to function,” NASA said. “No agency is able to function independently of the others.”

According to the agreement, there is no exchange of funds between NASA and Roscosmos.

From 2006 to 2020, NASA had paid Russia an average of $56 million per seat to bring 71 astronauts to the space station. After NASA’s space shuttles were retired in 2011, the Soyuz was the only way for NASA astronauts to get into orbit. That need ended when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft went live in 2020.

Anna Kikina, a Russian astronaut, will join two NASA astronauts, Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, and Koichi Wakata of Japan aboard Crew-5, the next SpaceX mission to the space station, currently scheduled for September. Another Russian astronaut, Andrei Fedyaev, is expected to be a member of the crew of the following SpaceX mission in the spring of next year.

NASA astronauts, beginning with Frank Rubio and Loral O’Hara, will be part of the crews on the upcoming Soyuz launches.

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