Nasa and Roscosmos team up for ISS rocket flights despite Ukraine war

Move comes even as US enforces sweeping sanctions against Russia for invasion of Ukraine

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The US on Friday announced it would resume flights to the International Space Station (ISS) with Russia's Roscosmos space agency, despite Washington's attempts to isolate the country over its invasion of Ukraine.

“To ensure continued safe operations of the [ISS], protect the lives of astronauts and ensure continuous US presence in space, Nasa will resume integrated crews on US crew spacecraft and the Russian Soyuz,” the American space agency said in a statement.

Nasa said that astronaut Frank Rubio would fly with two Russian cosmonauts on a Soyuz rocket scheduled to launch on September 21 from Kazakhstan.

Nasa also said Russian cosmonauts will join Nasa astronauts on the new SpaceX Crew-6 in early 2023. A similar flight is scheduled to launch in September from the US state of Florida, with a Japanese astronaut also on the mission.

In June, a Russian rocket to the ISS bore the inscription “Donbas” and its nose cone had the flags of the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics painted on it. The Donbas region of eastern Ukraine is where Russia is now concentrating its war effort.

Earlier this week, the European Space Agency terminated its relationship with Russia on a mission to put a rover on Mars.

Friday's Nasa announcement, confirmed by Roscosmos, came hours after President Vladimir Putin fired Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, a firebrand nationalist and ardent backer of the Ukraine invasion who once quipped that US astronauts should travel to the space station on trampolines rather than on Russian rockets.

Nasa said the ISS was always designed to be operated jointly with participation from the space agencies of the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.

“The station was designed to be interdependent and relies on contributions from each space agency to function. No one agency has the capability to function independent of the others,” it said.

Soyuz rockets were the only way to reach the space station until SpaceX, run by billionaire Elon Musk, debuted a capsule in 2020.

The last Nasa astronaut to take a Soyuz to the station was Mark Vande Hei in 2021.

He returned to Earth in March this year alongside Russian cosmonauts, also on a Soyuz.

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Updated: July 15, 2022, 6:03 PM