The US and Russia have reached a deal to fly each other’s spacefarers to the International Space Station (ISS). The breakthrough comes after months of tensions and uncertainty looming over joint space activities in the wake of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Both Russia’s space agency Roscosmos and its American counterpart, NASA, confirmed on Friday that they have agreed on the so-called “integrated flights.” The ultimate goal of the agreement is ensuring that at least one US astronaut and one Russian cosmonaut are present at the ISS to maintain respective segments of the station, Roscosmos explained.
“The agreement meets the interests of Russia and the United States and will promote the development of cooperation within the International Space Station program framework,” the agency said in a statement.
A NASA spokesman, Josh Finch, emphasized that “flying integrated crews ensures there are appropriately trained crew members on board the station for essential maintenance and spacewalks.” The deal is a “no-exchange-of-funds arrangement,” Finch stated, and includes all the necessary training as well as “transportation to and from the International Space Station and comprehensive mission support.”
“It also protects against contingencies such as a problem with any crew spacecraft, serious crew medical issues, or an emergency aboard the station that requires a crew and the vehicle they are assigned to return to Earth sooner than planned,” he added.
The first mission under the arrangement, involving NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, is set to take place in late September. The crew will use the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to reach the ISS.
Another mission, scheduled for the autumn as well, will fly a US Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission will likely involve the only woman in Russia’s active cosmonaut roster, Anna Kikina, Roscosmos revealed.
The apparent breakthrough in NASA-Roscosmos ties comes after months of tensions sparked by the ever-worsening relationship between the two countries, further aggravated by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The announcement of the deal also coincided with the dismissal of Russia’s long-time space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, who got replaced with Yury Borisov in a government reshuffle on Friday.