The International Space Station has been a hotbed of cooperation between the US and Russia amid tensions over Ukraine.
Two Russian cosmonauts and a US astronaut have boarded the International Space Station (ISS) after blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington over the invasion of Ukraine.
Cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub and US NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara took off Friday aboard the Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft, Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said.
The crew docked at the ISS three hours later, at 18:53 GMT, the Russian space agency said.
— NASA (@NASA) September 15, 2023
At the orbital station, the trio will join a crew of three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese, along with a representative from the European Space Agency.
The ISS has been a rare site of cooperation between the US and Russia since Moscow unleashed its offensive in Ukraine last year.
Russia’s Kononenko noted tense geopolitical tensions during a pre-flight press conference on Thursday, saying astronauts and cosmonauts looked after each other in space “unlike on Earth.”
“We listen to each other there, we understand each other, and we’re very sensitive to our relationships,” he said. “We always take care of each other.”
America’s O’Hara praised the station’s “legacy” and said it was bringing countries together.
The Soyuz spacecraft launched at 5:16 p.m. ET today, expanding the space station’s population to 10 in less than six hours with a crew launch from Kazakhstan. https://t.co/nIVdAprSJF
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) September 15, 2023
“The arrival of three new crew members temporarily increases the station’s population to 10 to the seven people already on Expedition 69,” NASA said after Soyuz docked with the ISS.
Kononenko, 59, and Chubb, 39, are slated to spend a year on the ISS, while O’Hara, 40, will spend six months aboard. It was O’Hara and Chubb’s first mission to space.
Mission Commander Kononenko has embarked on his fifth orbital trip to the space station.
At the end of his one-year stay, Kononenko will set a new record for the longest stay in space, exceeding a thousand days.
Chubb said that traveling into space was his “childhood dream” and dedicated his “entire life” to achieving that goal.
Friday’s launch was Russia’s first since last month’s loss of Russia’s Luna-25 module, which crashed after an incident during a pre-landing maneuver on the lunar surface, much to the embarrassment of Moscow.
The Luna-25 mission marked Russia’s return to independent lunar exploration in the face of financial problems and growing isolation from the West amid corruption scandals and its war on Ukraine.
Moscow last landed a probe on the moon in 1976, before moving away from lunar exploration in favor of missions to Venus and creating the Mir space station.