NASA, Roscosmos astronauts prepare to blast off to ISS on Soyuz rocket amid tensions over Ukraine conflict

Roskosmos Unveils First Physical Model of Planned Russian-Built Space Station

An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are set to fly to the International Space Station on a Russian-powered flight on Wednesday, despite escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NASA’s Frank Rubio and Russia’s Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin are scheduled to take off from Russia’s leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1354 GMT (7:24pm IST), according to Russian space agency Roscosmos.

Rubio will become the first American astronaut to travel to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz rocket as President Vladimir Putin sent troops to western Ukraine on February 24.

In response, Western capitals, including Washington, have hit Moscow with unprecedented sanctions and plunging bilateral ties to new levels.

However, the space has managed to stay out of cooperation between the two countries.

Following Rubio’s flight, Anna Kikina, Russia’s only active female astronaut, is expected to travel to the orbital station in early October aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

She will be only the fifth professional female astronaut to fly into space from Russia or the Soviet Union, and the first Russian woman to board a spacecraft from American billionaire Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.

With both flights moving forward, Russian cosmonauts and Western cosmonauts have sought to address the conflict that is raging back on Earth, especially when in orbit together.

A collaboration between the United States, Canada, Japan, the European Space Agency and Russia, the ISS is divided into two segments: the US orbital segment and the Russian orbital segment.

Russia ISS. Leaving

Currently, the ISS relies on a Russian propulsion system to maintain its orbit, which is about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above sea level, with the American segment responsible for power and life support systems.

However, tensions in the space sector have risen after Washington announced sanctions on Moscow’s aerospace industry – triggering warnings from former space chief Dmitry Rogozin of Russia, an ardent supporter of the Ukraine war.

Rogozin’s recently appointed successor, Yuri Borisov, later confirmed Russia’s long-standing move to leave the ISS after 2024 in favor of building its own orbital station.

US space agency NASA called the decision an “unfortunate development” that would hinder scientific work carried out on the ISS.

Space analysts say it could take more than a decade to build a new orbital station and that Russia’s space industry – a point of national pride – will not flourish under heavy sanctions.

The ISS was launched in 1998 at a time of hope for US-Russia cooperation after the Space Race competition during the Cold War.

During that era, the Soviet space program flourished. It boasted of several achievements which included sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years ago.

But experts say Roscosmos is now a shadow of its former self and has suffered several setbacks in recent years, including corruption scandals and the loss of several satellites and other spacecraft.

Russia’s years-long monopoly on manned flights to the ISS has gone to SpaceX as well, along with millions of dollars in revenue.

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