With a Soyuz carrier rocket, a US astronaut and two cosmonauts have launched into space together for the first time in times of severe political tension in their countries. Aboard a Soyuz space capsule, cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio lifted off at 15:55 CEST from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in the steppes of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Central Asia. The Russian space agency Roskosmos showed the launch to the International Space Station ISS in a live broadcast.
Nasa spoke of a "good start into the sunset". Local time in Baikonur, where a US delegation also followed the mission, was 6:55 p.m. "The crew is fine," said a NASA commentator. It is the first joint flight since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine on February 24.
All stages of the launch vehicle ignited smoothly, it said. The solar sails on the Soyuz capsule would have unfolded "perfectly" for the onward flight to the ISS. The flight to the outpost of mankind at an altitude of 400 kilometers should take around three hours.
120 kilograms of replenishment material
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. The 46-year-old Rubio said in Baikonur before the start that he was looking forward to the view of the earth from up there. He was excited about the "darkness and what the stars look like from there".
Rubio had previously said that space travel is a way of working 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.
Relationship between Moscow additionally strained
Russia's war against Ukraine is putting additional strain on already difficult relations between Moscow and Washington. Russia complains that the sanctions imposed by the USA and the EU in the wake of the war are making space work more difficult, including the production of missiles that can also be used militarily. At times, the collaboration was on the brink.
The two cosmonauts Prokopjev and Petelin are now traveling with Rubio in a Soyuz MS-22 space capsule 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.
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.
"I sleep better than on earth"
While Petelin and Rubio are flying for the first time, it is Prokopyev's second flight into space. He 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: 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 are already on board by the European space agency Esa.