Two Russian cosmonauts and a US astronaut on Friday docked with the International Space Station (ISS) after blasting off amid raging tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine.
Earlier on Friday Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub, and NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft.
The crew docked at the ISS three hours later, the Russian space agency said.
Photo: Roscosmos space corporation via AP
At the orbiting station, the trio are to join three Russians, two Americans, a Japanese astronaut and a representative of the European Space Agency.
The liftoff took place after Russia’s first lunar mission in nearly 50 years failed last month.
The ISS is a rare venue for cooperation between the US and Russia, whose ties broke down after Moscow unleashed its offensive in Ukraine in February last year.
Kononenko alluded to the tensions during a preflight press conference on Thursday, saying that “unlike on Earth” cosmonauts and astronauts take care of each other in space.
“We hear each other there and we understand each other, and we are very sensitive to our relationships,” he said. “We always take care of each other.”
O’Hara praised the station’s “legacy,” and said it had been bringing the countries together.
“I’m excited to get on board and see the crewmates who are waiting for us,” she added.
Kononenko, 59, and Chub, 39, were scheduled to spend a year on the ISS, while O’Hara, 40, was to spend six months aboard. It was the first mission to space for O’Hara and Chub.
Chub said that traveling to space was his “childhood dream” and he had dedicated “all his life” to reaching that goal.
The three take over from Russians Dmitry Petelin and Sergey Prokopyev, as well as NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who have spent one year aboard the ISS.
While that trio was initially supposed to return in March, their mission had to be extended after their vessel, the Soyuz MS-22, was damaged by a suspected tiny meteoroid, resulting in a coolant leak. They are to return to Earth on the Soyuz MS-23, Roscosmos said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking to strengthen space cooperation with China as Western condemnation and sanctions over Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine intensify.
On Wednesday, Putin hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East region, and the two discussed the possibility of sending a North Korean into space.
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