NASA Astronaut, Russian Cosmonauts Launch Historic Voyage to International Space Station

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A bold new chapter in space exploration unfolded this Friday as a NASA astronaut set off on her first voyage to the cosmos, accompanied by two Russian colleagues. This notable event marked the inaugural astronaut launch by Russia towards the International Space Station, almost a year since their last.

Their voyage was facilitated by the Russian Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft, which took to the skies from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:44 a.m. ET. The spacecraft swiftly set off on its three-hour journey, aligning its bearing to rendezvous with the space station.

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Among the intrepid adventurers on board was Loral O’Hara of NASA, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researcher turned astronaut, who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2017. Flanking her on this momentous journey were her Russian cohorts, Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub.

Upon successfully docking at the space station, the freshly arrived crew will assume control from the long-term inhabitants. The incumbent team has been stationed on the International Space Station close to a year now, since their voyage aboard the Soyuz MS-22.

This older vehicle unfortunately suffered a coolant leak in December 2022, an issue deemed to be precipitated by external impact. Both NASA and Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, surmised that the probable cause was a collision with space debris while docked at the ISS.

Following a safety evaluation, Roscosmos deemed the MS-22 unfit for crew return, necessitating a replacement to be deployed in February. Meanwhile, the MS-22 crew, including NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, found themselves unexpectedly extending their stay at the orbiting station. Notably, this prolonged sojourn allowed Rubio to shatter the US record for the most consecutive days spent in orbit.

With the arrival of O’Hara, Kononenko and Chub, and following a period of transition, Rubio and his crew are poised to finally embark on their journey back to Earth, which could commence as early as September 27. This return will crown Rubio with an astonishing total of 371 days in space, smashing the previous record by more than a fortnight.

Despite the extraordinary accomplishment, Rubio’s stay falls short of the global record 437 continuous days in space, held by the late Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov. Nevertheless, Rubio secures his place in history as the first American astronaut to spend a full calendar year in space.

Both Rubio and O’Hara embarked on their journeys aboard Russian Soyuz spacecrafts, part of a strategic crew-exchange agreement established between NASA and Roscosmos in the summer of 2022. Reciprocatively, SpaceX, NASA’s ISS transportation collaborator, has been integrating Russian cosmonauts into its flights heading to the International Space Station.

Maintaining functional space operations and crucial scientific research aboard the ISS has necessitated a thus far unshaken partnership between NASA and Roscosmos, embodying a spirit of cooperation amidst geopolitical turbulence between the United States and Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

SpaceX has played a significant role in supporting this partnership. Their most recent mission to the International Space Station in August successfully delivered astronauts from NASA, Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency.