Baikonur (Kazakhstan): A US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday on a Russian-operated flight, in a rare instance of co-operation between Moscow and Washington.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos and Nasa both distributed live footage of the launch from Kazakhstan and commentators speaking over the feed said it was stable and that “the crew is feeling well”.
Nasa’s Frank Rubio and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin make up the crew that launched from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome at 1354 GMT.
Rubio is the first US astronaut to travel to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz rocket since President Vladimir Putin sent troops into pro-Western Ukraine on February 24.
In response, Western capitals including Washington have hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions and bilateral ties have sunk to new lows.
Space remained an outlier of cooperation between the two countries.
Russia’s only active female cosmonaut Anna Kikina is expected to travel to the orbital station in early October aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon.
She will become only the fifth professional woman cosmonaut from Russia or the Soviet Union to fly to space, and the first Russian to fly aboard a spacecraft of SpaceX, the company of billionaire Elon Musk.
Russian cosmonauts and Western astronauts have sought to steer clear of the conflict that is raging back on Earth, especially when in orbit together.
A collaboration among the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, the ISS is split into two sections: the US Orbital Segment, and the Russian Orbital Segment.
At present, the ISS depends on a Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit, about 250 miles above sea level, with the US segment responsible for electricity and life support systems.