NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, have officially agreed to swap seats on four upcoming missions to the International Space Station. American first missions aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon aboard Russian and Soyuz vehicles—will fly in September.
“Integrated flight crews ensure that the station has properly trained crew members for essential maintenance and space missions,” NASA spokesman Josh Finch said in a statement. “It also protects against contingencies such as a crewed shuttle, serious medical problems or an on-station emergency that would require a crew and their assigned vehicle to return to Earth sooner than planned.”
As expected, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will fly with cosmonauts Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitry Betlin on the Soyuz MS-22 mission, which is set to launch on September 21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Additionally, NASA’s Laurel O’Hara will fly on a Soyuz MS-23 mission next spring with astronauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub.
Meanwhile, astronaut Anna Kikina will fly on the Crew-5 mission in September with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Kasada and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. Astronaut Andrey Fedyaev will join NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoberg as part of the Crew-6 mission next spring.
“The non-funding arrangement includes transportation to the International Space Station and comprehensive mission support, including all necessary training and launch, flight operations, landing and crew recovery services,” Finch said.
The announcement on Friday morning came shortly after the Kremlin announced that Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin. He jumped from his position. Rogozin will be replaced by former Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov. During his four-year tenure, Rogozin had a rocky relationship with his Western counterparts and was always more interested in supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin than in advancing the space station efforts.
A source said the timing of Friday’s announcement was coincidental. However, NASA will not mourn the loss of Rogozin, who has been increasingly belligerent since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has made several threats about Russian participation in the station. NASA officials have said they maintain a good working relationship with other senior executives within Roscosmos, which helped move forward with the seat transfer agreement despite Rogozin’s troubled leadership.
Integrated crews are the norm throughout the International Space Station program and are a key symbol of cooperation between Russia and the United States despite geopolitical tensions. A Russian cosmonaut, Sergey Grigalev, was the first Russian to fly on a US space vehicle, riding aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle in 1994. A year later, NASA astronaut Norman Taggart flew to the Mir space station in a Soyuz vehicle.
Following the retirement of the spacecraft in 2011, NASA had to rely on Russia to transport crews to the space station. Although Russia ultimately charged NASA about $90 million for the seat, the country held up its end of the bargain by providing reliable transportation. NASA no longer needs Russia for this, however, and the Crew Dragon is coming online as an operational spacecraft. Kikhina was the first Russian to launch in an American vehicle other than the Space Shuttle.