Soyuz rocket leaves for International Space Station on historic US-Russian flight

Baiknur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan – The history of spacecraft has been measured in targets since Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin were launched from 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 marked a different kind of milestone: the end of an era.

At 4:45 a.m. local time, a Soyuz rocket exploded from the Baikonur Cosmotrom, Russia’s dispersed and remote space launch facility in Kazakhstan, towards the International Space Station.

NASA last paid the American astronaut to fly with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, on such a flight. Next year, for the first time since the launch of the ISS program 20 years ago, Russia will fly an all-Russian crew on the Soyuz.

NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergei Ryazikov and Sergei Kud-Sverkov on Wednesday boarded the Suez MS-17 spacecraft.Andre Shelepin / AFP – Getty Images

Early Wednesday, NASA will take celibate Sergei Ryzykov and Sergei Kud-Sverkov 250 miles to the station in three hours and seven minutes, with astronaut Kathleen Rubins.

But in just a few weeks’ time, the NASA SpaceX crew will begin flying its astronauts to the ISS aboard the Dragon spacecraft. The agency hopes to eventually allow Russian cosmonauts on the dragon, but it is unclear when that will happen.

A spokesman for Roscosmos told NBC News that U.S. There are no definite plans for any Russian to join the venture, he added, adding that the question is extraordinarily linked to the future U.S. ride on the Soyuz.

Stephen Cunner, director of NASA’s flight operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said it would be at least a year before any kind of seat swap was made.

“It will really depend on launching U.S. crew vehicles on some caddies,” he said.

The collaboration between NASA and Roscosmos aboard the International Space Station has been successful. Both sides regularly admire each other and talk a lot about their relationship, but this partnership was the product of a different era in US-Russia relations.

“Cooperation between the United States and [Russia] That’s because change in that part of the world has made it possible, “said Susan Eisenhower, author of Space in Partners: US-Russian cooperation after the Cold War.

“Nevertheless, there has been further partnership in space because it is in the interest of both countries.

After years of preparation and construction, the ISS was ready to serve as a distant embodiment of post-Cold War reconciliation and cooperation between old rivals.

When NASA launched the U.S. in 2011. When the space shuttle program retired, it relied entirely on buying rides from Russia – a transaction that subsidized Russia’s launch efforts for a decade. This dependency became a hot-button political issue for NASA locally after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Attempts were made by government officials on both sides at the time to politicize the relationship and somehow punish it. On the Russian side, then-Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin threatened to cut off NASA from the ISS ride in response to US sanctions against him and Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

The Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft exploded on Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmotrom in Kazakhstan towards the International Space Station.Andrei Shelepin / GCTC / Russian Space Agency / Reuters

The remarks prompted the U.S. to launch a new spacecraft capable of delivering U.S. astronauts to the ISS. A great sense of urgency was encouraged in the efforts of. The result is SpaceX’s crew Dragon and another vehicle designed by Boeing that will fly later next year.

“There may be tensions in bilateral relations at this time, but the area to try that is above the geological states is important,” Eisenhower said. “It’s a shame if our last area of ​​productive cooperation is effectively abandoned.”

As part of its efforts to launch a new lunar program, NASA has proposed building a new space station in lunar orbit called the Lunar Gateway, and invited all ISS partners to participate. But NASA Administrator Jim Brydenstein said Monday that Roscosmos has yet to say whether he will participate.

Rosezimon, now head, said at a space conference on Monday: “In our view the gateway is very U.S.-centric in its current form … so will probably avoid large-scale participation. [the project]”

“Under the current political circumstances and trends in US-Russia relations, I think there is no future for bilateral space relations,” says Russian space policy analyst Pavel Luzin.