All-Russian cosmonaut crew takes off to the International Space Station

Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov aboard the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:55 a.m. ET. The crew’s launch and flight to the space station, which is supposed to take just over three hours, will be broadcast live on NASA’s website. website.

It’s Matveyev and Korsakov’s first spaceflight, and the trio will spend the next six and a half months aboard the space station.

The astronauts manually steered the Soyuz through the docking station and successfully docked at 3:12 p.m. ET. The hatch opened at 5:48 p.m. ET and they were greeted aboard the International Space Station by two Russian cosmonauts, four NASA astronauts and one European Space Agency cosmonaut. The crew members were all smiling and cuddling each other after they floated through the hatch.

This brings the station crew to 10.

Russian Soyuz launches usually include two cosmonauts and at least one cosmonaut from NASA or another international partner due to a crew exchange agreement between Roscosmos and other agencies.

This isn’t the first time an all-Russian mission has happened — a Russian crew flew to the station in October to shoot the first film in space.

Although this cosmonaut’s launch takes place at a time of rising geopolitical tensions, the absence of other nations’ participation was serendipitous and is based on a prior agreement between NASA and Roscosmos to postpone the crew exchange for future missions in 2022.

“We are still planning to work on the crew exchange,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s International Space Station program manager, during a press conference Monday. “So we still have a training schedule for Rocosmos to come to Houston and Hawthorne and our team to go to Star City and train at Soyuz.

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“In terms of interaction with the White House – they understand that we continue with these processes. We get questions from time to time, and we answer them, but today we continue to work on those agreements.”

Astronauts lift off aboard the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Montalbano did not respond to a question about extending the ISS’s partnership with Russia until 2030.

When asked if current tensions on Earth have translated into the crew aboard the space station, Montalbano said, “When you’re in space, there are no borders. You don’t see state lines or state lines.”

“Teams keep working together. Are they aware of what’s going on on Earth? Sure. The astronauts and cosmonauts are some of the most professional groups you’ll ever see. They keep working really well, and there’s really no tension with the team. That’s what they’ve been trained to do. And they are there doing this work.”

back to earth

On March 30, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hee is scheduled to return to Earth with Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.

Vande Hei — who blasted off to the International Space Station in April 2021 — surpassed NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s record of 340 days in space on March 15, and when he touches down in Kazakhstan, he will have set a new record for the amount of time a human spends. Spent in space: 355 days.

The space agency sought to reaffirm Monday that it is still working closely with Russia’s Rokosmos space agency on the International Space Station, despite escalating geopolitical tensions.

According to Montalbano, joint operations between NASA and Roscosmos at the Russian facilities in Baikonur, Kazakhstan “are still going well.” “I can definitely tell you, Mark [Vande Hei] She will return home “aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft,” Montalbano said Monday. We are in contact with our Russian colleagues, there is no fog about that. “

NASA says the Americans aboard the International Space Station will surely return aboard a Russian rocket.

NASA officials have not stated that there will be any significant changes to plans to return Vande Hee to the United States after landing. He will travel home via Gulfstream, as other American astronauts before him have done.

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For nearly a decade, Russian Soyuz vehicles were the only means of transporting astronauts to and from the space station. But that dependence ended after SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon capsule in 2020, and the United States restored human spaceflight capabilities.

When CNN Montalbano’s Kristen Fisher was asked if NASA had contingency plans in the event that relations between the United States and Russia deteriorated, he said, “The International Space Station, I’ll tell you, is the leading model for international cooperation. We’ve talked previously (about) the interdependence that we have between The US and the Russian part. That is why we are able to operate and how we operate … At this time there is no indication from our Russian partners that they want to do this anything different. So we plan to continue operations as we are today.”

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