NASA and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos have officially agreed to exchange seats on four upcoming missions to the International Space Station. The first mission—with a Russian on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and an American on Soyuz vehicles—will fly in September.
“Flying Integrated Crew ensures that the station has appropriately trained crew members for necessary maintenance and spacewalks,” NASA spokesman Josh Finch said in a statement. “It also protects against contingencies such as any crewed spaceflight, serious crew medical issues, or an emergency on the station that requires a crew and the vehicle they need to be delivered sooner than planned. Assigned to return to Earth soon.”
As expected, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will fly with cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin on the Soyuz MS-22 mission, which is scheduled to launch on Sept. 21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Additionally, NASA’s Lorel O’Hara will fly with astronauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chubb on the Soyuz MS-23 mission next spring.
Meanwhile, astronaut Anna Kikina will fly with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Kasada and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata on the Crew-5 mission in September. Cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev will join NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoberg as part of the Crew-6 mission next spring.
“The no-exchange-of-funds arrangement includes transportation to and from the International Space Station and comprehensive mission support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing and crew rescue services,” Finch said.
The announcement was made on Friday morning, shortly after the Kremlin announced that Roscosmos director general Dmitry Rogozin had been removed from his post. Former Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov will replace Rogozin. During his four-year term, Rogozin had an extremely rocky relationship with his Western counterparts and was always more interested in working on the side of Russian President Vladimir Putin to advance space station efforts.
A source said the timing of Friday’s announcement was coincidental. However, NASA will not cry for the loss of Rogozin, who has been increasingly warlike since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has raised several threats regarding Russian involvement in the station. NASA officials have said they maintain good working relationships with other senior administrators inside Roscosmos, which helped them move forward with a seat-swap agreement despite Rogozin’s messy leadership.
Integrated crews have been the norm throughout the International Space Station program, and they are an important symbol of cooperation between Russia and the United States despite geopolitical tensions. A Russian cosmonaut, Sergei Krikalev, was the first Russian to fly on a US spacecraft aboard a NASA spacecraft in 1994. A year later, NASA astronaut Norman Thagard flew to the Mir space station on a Soyuz vehicle.
After the spacecraft’s retirement in 2011, NASA had to rely on Russia to transport crew to the space station. Although Russia eventually charged NASA about $90 million for a seat, the country ended the bargain by providing reliable transportation. NASA no longer requires Russia for this, however, as Crew Dragon is coming online as an operational spacecraft. Kikina will become the first Russian to launch on a US vehicle other than a spacecraft.