Three Russian cosmonauts have joined the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Soyuz rocket in the context of extreme tensions between Russia and the West over the conflict in Ukraine.
This crew, led by experienced cosmonaut Oleg Artemiev, accompanied by Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov, departed at 15:55 GMT for a three-hour flight to the ISS. German, according to NASA images.
Some tension since 2018
Until recently, space cooperation between Russia and the West was one of the few areas that did not suffer too much from the sanctions imposed on Moscow after the 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
However, some tensions have arisen, especially after Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed nationalist Dmitry Rogozin to head the Russian space agency Roskosmos in 2018. The latter regularly demonstrates its support for what Russia calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. “Our! For the first time in many years, this is an all-Russian crew, ”he wrote on Twitter a few hours before the start.
“The fall of the ISS”?
This weekend, an official said that recent Western sanctions imposed on Moscow could lead to the fall of the ISS. According to him, due to the sanctions, the work of Russian ships supplying the ISS will be disrupted, which will affect the Russian segment of the station. As a result, this could lead to “+ landing on water + or + landing + ISS with a weight of 500 tons,” he warned.
To correct the orbit of the space structure, the engines of Russian ships moored to the station are used. A procedure done ten times a year to keep it at the right altitude or avoid space debris in its path.
Only Americans don’t have that capability, Joel Montalbano, NASA’s program director, confirmed on Monday. “The space station was designed on the principle of interdependence (…) it is not a process in which one group can separate from another. “At present, there are no signs that our Russian partners want to act differently. Therefore, we plan to continue working as we do today,” he said.
Exchange with Elon Musk
Rogozin also spoke to the eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, founder of the space company SpaceX, who on Monday challenged Vladimir Putin by tweeting a “face-to-face fight” with Ukraine as a bet. “Elon, come out of the closet so we can talk a little,” Rogozin tweeted, referring to a post by the billionaire in which he said he wrote at least 50% of his tweets on the “porcelain throne.”
Aboard the ISS, Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts avoided talking about a conflict that has already claimed thousands of lives and sparked one of the biggest refugee crises in Europe since World War II. But astronaut Mark Vande Hey bore the brunt of the war of words between Russia and the West when Roscosmos released a video jokingly suggesting he could stay on the ISS instead of returning to Earth aboard a Soyuz rocket on March 30. Scott Kelly, another NASA astronaut whose longest time in space record was broken by Mark Vande Hey this week, responded to a joke by refusing a medal awarded to him by the Russian government.
In the latest hitch in space cooperation, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Thursday that it has suspended the Russian-European ExoMars mission and is seeking alternatives to launch four more missions due to the offensive in Ukraine. Dmitry Rogozin criticized “a very bitter event” and said that Russia could fulfill this mission on its own, “in a few years.”