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Cosmonaut Anna Kikina becomes first Russian woman to fly to the International Space Station It’s hard to believe, but Russia and the U.S. are still cooperating in space
On October 5, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina became the first Russian woman to fly to the International Space Station. She flew on spacecraft Dragon, which was launched in Florida as part of a joint program between Elon Musk’s company SpaceX and NASA. Her flight almost didn’t happen because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which caused Western countries to back out of many joint projects with Russia in the realm of space exploration. However, a crew exchange program between Russia and the US has continued despite the war and subsequent sanctions. In coming years, three Russian cosmonauts will fly with NASA crews on American spacecraft, and three American astronauts will fly with Russian crews on Russian ships.
On October 5, the spacecraft Dragon launched with a crew of four from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This is the fifth mission to the International Space Station that the company SpaceX has undertaken as part of a joint program with NASA.
The spacecraft’s crew consists of NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakada, and the Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina. She is the first Russian to go into orbit aboard the Dragon.
Kikina’s flight is part of an agreement, signed on June 14, 2022 by NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, on crew exchanges. The agreement stipulates three flights by Russian cosmonauts on the Dragon, and three flights by American astronauts on Soyuz spacecraft. The first flight that took place as part of the agreement launched on September 21. NASA astronaut Frank Rubio joined the Russian crew of the Soyuz MS-22 on that flight.
Kikina was initially supposed to fly on one of the Russian spacecraft, but Roscosmos leadership changed its decision. Dmitry Rogozin, who was at that time the director of the space agency, announced that Kikina would be an “ambassador of goodwill.” “Our beautiful cosmonaut will be the first Russian to fulfill the flight exchange program,” he said in a Roscosmos press release.
However her flight, which was already in the works in 2021, almost didn’t happen due to the war in Ukraine. After the Russian invasion, Western countries introduced a number of sanctions against Russia, including exports of electronics and technology for the aerospace industry. Roscosmos came under additional restrictive measures from the EU. For its part, Roscosmos halted launches from the Guiana Space Centre, also known as Europe’s Spaceport, and refused to launch British OneWeb communications satellites from the Baikonur spaceport. In addition, Russia stopped shipments to the US of the RD-180 and RD-181 engines, which are used for Atlas V and Antares launching systems.
In March 2022, the European Space Agency ceased cooperation with Roscosmos. The Russian-European project on the exploration of Mars was halted. Dmitry Rogozin then announced that Russia would send its own mission to Mars. The European Space Agency also announced its withdrawal from a Russian project exploring resources on the Moon. Rogozin replied on his Telegram: “It just means we’ll take their instruments out of our systems. A Russian mare is easier to handle than a European woman with a cart.” He later said that Europe would suffer more from sanctions than the Russian space agency would, adding that “when the dust settles, everyone who introduced sanctions against us will have to negotiate on our terms.”
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The flight exchange program, unlike many other international projects, escaped unscathed. In June, Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin signed an order on negotiations between Roscosmos and NASA. Rogozin said that Roscosmos would resume negotiations only if sanctions were lifted. However, within a few days an agreement on flight transfers was signed and Rogozin was removed from his post.
Joel Montalbano, NASA’s International Space Station program manager, said that NASA and Roscosmos had agreed on three exchange flights in upcoming years. He also noted that the US will extend the operation of the space station until 2030 and, if other partners in the program do the same, will seek to extend the crew exchange agreement with Roscosmos.
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