It seems that Russia and the US are setting political fights aside, at least as far as interspace travel is concerned. In a partnership that is free of the politics that has plagued US-Russia relations over the last few weeks, two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut are heading to the International Space Station for a six-month mission.
Certainly, it is not the first time that Russia and the US have partnered for an international space mission. In fact, the two nations are responsible for overseeing the ISS mission, which involves collaboration among a group of nations, including Canada, Russia, Japan and various member nations of the European Space Agency. It is the largest space station in orbit and continues to be assembled throughout the various missions that send astronauts and cosmonauts alike to the ISS.
The ISS has been understaffed since March 11; the station usually boasts a six-member crew, but a NASA astronaut and two cosmonauts returned to Earth two weeks ago. Astronaut Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev left this afternoon for a six-month tour in outer space. Swanson is no stranger to space missions; he has a background that boasts two previous space shuttle missions while Skvortsov is an ISS veteran. Artemyev is the relative newcomer to the station, having never had a flight into space previously.
As the trio headed to the International Space Station, pundits were wondering if the two countries traveling to the ISS were going to be able to set politics aside. A month before the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft blasted off from Kazakhstan at 21:17 GMT today, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the goings-on in the Ukraine would not affect a relationship that remains “intact and normal”. Astronaut Reid Wiseman seemed to echo those sentiments in a March 18 interview. He noted that while the Ukraine conflict may have an impact on the spaceflight itself, it was a non-issue from an operator’s standpoint. He is scheduled to head to the ISS in May.
The ISS mission is currently being led by Japan’s Kochi Wakata, which marks the first time that Japan has been in charge of the ISS. He will, of course, be on hand to greet the new arrivals, as well as NASA’s Rick Mastracchio and Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin. Artemyev said while he is looking forward to seeing the Zvezda Module he helped build, he is going to find it hard to be away from family and friends for the next six months.
Skvortsov will have reason to celebrate while he is working on the variety of experiments that the astronauts and cosmonauts will be responsible for during their time in space. He will be celebrating his 48th birthday in space, which is exactly how he celebrated his 44th birthday. He said that one of his most treasured keepsakes from the last time he was at the ISS was the birthday card that the others had made for him.
Swanson will be taking over as commander of Expedition 40 while at the ISS. None of the astronauts seem concerned about the politics between Russia and the US currently; as they head to the ISS, the two cosmonauts and the astronaut will likely prove that science trumps politics, at least as far as the space race is concerned.
By Christina St-Jean