Beknoor Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan – The history of astronauts has been measured on milestones since the inauguration of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin in the desert plains of Kazakhstan 60 years ago.
The first satellite, the first man in space, the first moon. But the launch of the Soyuz MS-17 on Wednesday was a different kind of milestone: the end of an era.
At 8.45am local time, a Soyuz rocket flew Russia’s largest and most remote space launch facility in Kaikoustan, from the Beknur Cosmodrome, to the International Space Station.
This was the last time NASA paid an American astronaut to fly such a flight with the Russian space agency Roscoms. Next year, for the first time since the start of the ISS program 20 years ago, Russia will fly all-Russian crews on the Soyuz.
Starting Wednesday, astronauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov, along with NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubin, will reach the station at a distance of 250 miles in just three hours and seven minutes.
But in just a few weeks, NASA will begin flying its astronauts to the ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The agency hopes that eventually Russian dragons aboard the dragon will be allowed, but it is unclear when this will happen.
A spokesman for Roscoms told NBC News that there were no definite plans for any Russian to join the US venture, adding that the question was unnecessarily related to American riders on the Soyuz.
Stephen Connor, director of NASA’s flight operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said any change of seat would take place at least a year in advance.
“It will really depend on whether the US pilots start launching some vehicles,” he said.
Cooperation between NASA and Roscoms aboard the International Space Station has been successful. The two sides regularly praised each other and spoke highly of their relationship, but the partnership was the product of a different era in US-Russian relations.
“Cooperation between the United States and [Russia] This is because changes in that part of the world have made it possible, “said Susan Eisenhower, author of Partners in Space: US-Russian Cooperation after the Cold War.
“However, the partnership in space came because it is in the interest of both countries.
After years of preparation and construction, the ISS was ready to serve as a far-flung form of post-Cold War reconciliation and cooperation between old adversaries.
When NASA retired the US space shuttle program in 2011, it relied entirely on buying rides from Russia – a transaction that subsidized Russia’s decade-long inaugural effort. This dependence became a hot-button political issue for NASA domestically after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Attempts were made by government officials on both sides to politicize the relationship and use it to somehow punish the other. On the Russian side, then-Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin threatened to cut off NASA from IS in response to US sanctions against him and Russia for their actions in Ukraine.
The remarks encouraged a sense of urgency in US efforts to launch new spacecraft capable of delivering US astronauts to the ISS. The result is SpaceX’s crew, another vehicle designed by Dragon and Boeing that will take off later next year.
“While bilateral relations may be strained at the moment, it is important that there be an area of effort that goes beyond geopolitics,” Eisenhower said. “It would be a shame if this, our last area of productive cooperation, was effectively abandoned.”
As part of its efforts to launch a new lunar program, NASA has proposed building a new space station on the lunar planet, and has invited all ISS partners to participate. But NASA administrator Jim Brydenstein said Monday that Roscosmos has yet to say whether she will take part.
Rogozin, head of Rocosomes, told a space conference on Monday: “We think the gateway is very centralized in its current form, so large-scale involvement is likely to be avoided. [the project]”
“Given the current political situation and the trend in US-Russia relations, I don’t think there is any future for bilateral space relations,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russian space policy analyst.