The American Frank Rubio and the two Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopjew and Dmitri Petelin fly into space together today in times of great political tension. On board a Soyuz rocket, they are scheduled to take off at 3:54 p.m. CEST from the Russian cosmodrome Baikonur in the steppes of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Central Asia, according to the Russian space agency Roskosmos. It is the first joint flight since the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine began on February 24.
The crew also has 120 kilograms of resupply material for the ISS on board, including hygiene and medical supplies, scientific apparatus and personal belongings of the cosmonauts. 46-year-old Rubio said in Baikonur he was looking forward to the view of Earth from up there. He was excited about the "darkness and what the stars look like from there".
Rubio had already said in advance that space travel was an opportunity to achieve something together, even in times of political tension. The crew did not talk about the war beforehand, but mainly about personal things and the everyday life of astronauts. Everyone made it clear that they would miss their families most of all during the six months on the ISS.
The hardest thing for him personally will be the long separation from his wife and four children, said Los Angeles-born astronaut Rubio, who has been with NASA since 2017 and is now flying into space for the first time. He will take a few family photos with him to the ISS. "It's an honor for me to follow in the footsteps of previous astronauts," he said before launch.
War puts a strain on cooperation in space
The two cosmonauts Prokopjev and Petelin are now traveling with Rubio in a Soyuz MS-22 space capsule on a three-hour flight to the outpost of mankind. In October, the Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina is to fly from the USA to the ISS on board a "Crew Dragon" capsule from Elon Musk's company SpaceX. The flights should give hope that the cooperation on the ISS will continue for years to come. Russia had recently announced that it would exit the project after 2024, but did not give a date.
Numerous tasks and experiments
Before the start of the 68th ISS mission, cosmonaut Prokopyev said: "The program is pretty full - in addition to quick docking, five exits into space are planned." In addition, 48 experiments are planned, including working with a 3D printer in zero gravity. The plan is therefore to print different figures out of different materials. This could possibly lead to a new generation of 3D printers in the future.
While it is Prokopyev's second flight into space, Petelin and Rubio fly for the first time. Prokopyev said: "We all play football. We will surely find a ball in space." He himself has played tennis and badminton in zero gravity. Otherwise, the daily routine is the same as on Earth: work during the day, night rest is from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. "I sleep better than on Earth," said the 47-year-old.
The three astronauts will not be alone on the ISS at a height of around 400 kilometers above the earth. The commander of the 67th expedition, Oleg Artemyev, the cosmonauts Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov as well as the NASA astronauts Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, Jessica Watkins and the Italian Samantha Cristoforetti from the European space agency ESA are already on board.