US and Russian astronauts will swap seats on rockets again

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA astronauts will return to Russian rockets under a deal announced Friday, and Russian cosmonauts will take lifts to the International Space Station with SpaceX starting this fall.

The deal ensures the space station will always have at least one American and one Russian on board to keep both sides of the orbiting outpost running smoothly, according to NASA and Russian officials. The exchange had been in the works for a long time and was finalized despite tensions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine, a sign of continued Russian-American cooperation in space.

American astronaut Frank Rubio will fly to the space station from Kazakhstan with two Russians in September. That same month, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina will join two Americans and a Japanese aboard a SpaceX rocket from Florida. Another crew swap will take place next spring.

No money will be exchanged as part of the deal, according to NASA.

NASA astronauts regularly launched on Russian Soyuz rockets — for tens of millions of dollars each — until SpaceX began flying station crews from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in 2020. Cosmonauts Russians flew to the space station on NASA shuttles in the early 2000s. Prior to that, in the 1990s, astronauts and cosmonauts took turns flying on each other’s spacecraft to and from the Russian station Mir.

Friday’s news came just hours after Russia’s space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin was replaced by President Vladimir Putin, although the move does not appear to have anything to do with the crew swap. Rogozin was to be given a new position.

NASA said the agreement will “ensure the continued safe operations” of the space station and protect those living on board. Seven people are up there right now: three Americans and an Italian who flew with SpaceX and three Russians who arrived in Soyuz.

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