NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, have officially agreed to exchange seats on four upcoming missions to the International Space Station. The first missions—with a Russian on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and an American on Soyuz vehicles—will fly in September.
“Flying integrated crews ensures there are appropriately trained crew members on board the station for essential maintenance and spacewalks,” said NASA spokesman Josh Finch in a statement. “It also protects against contingencies such as a problem with any crew spacecraft, serious crew medical issues, or an emergency aboard the station that requires a crew and the vehicle they are assigned to return to Earth sooner than planned.”
As expected, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio will fly alongside cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin on the Soyuz MS-22 mission, which is scheduled to launch on September 21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Additionally, NASA’s Loral O’Hara will fly along with cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub on the Soyuz MS-23 mission next spring.
Meanwhile, cosmonaut Anna Kikina will fly with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata on the Crew-5 mission in September. Cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev will join NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg 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 came on Friday morning shortly after the Kremlin announced that Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin had been bounced from his position. Former Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov will replace Rogozin. During his four-year tenure, Rogozin had an extremely rocky relationship with his Western counterparts and always seemed more interested in currying favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin than working to further space station efforts.
The timing of Friday’s announcement was coincidental, a source said. However, NASA will not be weeping for the loss of Rogozin, who has been increasingly bellicose since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has made numerous threats about Russian participation in the station. NASA officials have said they maintain a good working relationship with other senior administrators inside Roscosmos, which helped them push forward with the seat-swap agreement despite Rogozin’s messy leadership.
Integrated crews have been the norm throughout the International Space Station Program, and they’re 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 space vehicle, riding on board NASA’s space shuttle in 1994. A year later, NASA astronaut Norman Thagard flew to the Mir space station on a Soyuz vehicle.
Following the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, NASA had to rely on Russia for crew transportation to the space station. Although Russia eventually charged NASA about $90 million for a seat, the country held up its end of the bargain by providing reliable transportation. NASA no longer needs Russia for this, however, with Crew Dragon coming online as an operational spacecraft. Kikina will become the first Russian to launch on a US vehicle other than the space shuttle.