NASA says it hopes to know by June if a Russian cosmonaut is going to fly on the Crew Dragon trip in September in return for a NASA astronaut traveling on a Soyuz, as the agency’s leadership expresses optimism regarding long-term cooperation on the space station.
At a press conference on April 26 regarding the planned Crew-4 Crew Dragon flight to the ISS (International Space Station), NASA ISS program manager Joel Montalbano stated the agency was waiting for Russia’s foreign ministry to finalize an agreement allowing NASA and Roscosmos to trade seats.
This arrangement will allow “mixed crews” including Roscosmos cosmonauts and NASA astronauts to fly to the International Space Station on both Soyuz and commercial crew spacecraft. If a vehicle is out of service for an extended period, there will be a minimum of one Russian and one American on the station.
He stated of the seat barter arrangement, “We’re trying to get that restored in early to mid-May.” He stated that if Russia adopts the deal, the US State Department will conduct a final review of any changes made by Russia before it takes effect.
He went on to say that he expected Russia would approve it. “On a regular basis, we’re communicating to our Russian counterparts about this,” he stated. “The Russian government has been favorable of the crew swap, so we’re anticipating a favorable response.”
NASA needed to make a decision in the “mid-June to late-June timeframe” to enable a crew swap for missions launching this fall, according to Montalbano. Anna Kikina, a Russian cosmonaut, would subsequently go on the Crew-5 mission, which would launch in the early half of September, whereas an American astronaut was going to ride on the Soyuz MS-22 mission, which would launch later that month.
Despite the deterioration of relations between the West and Russia as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, preparations for crew swaps are still in the works. Beyond the ISS program, civil space collaboration between Russia and Western nations has largely ceased, like the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission, which has been put on hold after ESA stopped cooperation with Russia, which had planned to launch the Mars rover mission on a Proton rocket in September.
Since the invasion began, NASA officials have stated that the ISS’s day-to-day activities have not been hampered by the geopolitical situation. However, there are still worries in the space world about Russia’s long-term engagement with the station, especially because Roscosmos has yet to approve an ISS extension beyond 2024.
At a separate briefing on April 26, Bill Nelson, who is expressed confidence in long-term collaboration with Russia on the station, citing a half-century of Cold War cooperation with the former Soviet Union. This includes a “professional connection” between astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the station, as well as between Houston and Moscow flight controllers.