An American astronaut blasted off to the International Space Station and flew into a seat aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that was booked through the first “crew exchange” agreement since before the end of the space shuttle program 15 years ago.
NASA’s Francisco “Frank” Rubio blasted off with Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitry Petlin of Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Corporation, on Wednesday (September 21). The Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft flew on a Soyuz-2.1a rocket from Site 31 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:54 a.m. EDT (1354 GMT or 6:54 p.m. local time).
After 9 minutes of ascending into orbit, the Soyuz crew set off to rendezvous with the space station. Prokopiev, Petlin, and Rubio are scheduled to arrive at the orbital laboratory at 1:11 p.m. EDT (1711 GMT), descending the Soyuz to the Rassvet mini-research module after orbiting the Earth twice.
After allowing time for pressure to balance both sides of the spacecraft’s vents, Prokobiev, Petlin and Rubio will come aboard the station and join the Expedition 67 crew, including Commander Oleg Artemyev, astronauts Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, and NASA astronauts Bob Heinz, Kjell Lindgren and Jessica Watkins and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
Prokopyev, Petlin and Rubio are scheduled to spend six months in orbit.
“I think we’re all very excited about the whole mission,” Rubio said at a NASA press conference in August. “We’ve spent a lot of time training for extravehicular activities, or spacewalking, so I think we’re all excited to be involved in it. And there are some really cool biological experiments that I’m looking forward to.” [such as the] The biomanufacturing experience, which represents the possibilities that it presents – potentially being able to produce human organs – is just going to be phenomenal in our ability to deal with human disease here on Earth.”
“This kind of thing almost blows the mind when you think about it, isn’t it? And the fact that we’re involved in a small way, but in an important way, in helping to make this a reality is really exciting,” he said.
Prokopyev, Petlin, and Rubio will move to Expedition 68 when leadership is passed from Artemyev to Christoforiti, who will become the first European woman to lead a space station crew after the handover ceremony scheduled for September 28.
However, Cristoforetti’s tenure as commander will be short. She is scheduled to return to Earth in October with Hines, Lindgren and Watkins on Freedom. Their departure, as currently planned, will follow the arrival of NASA’s Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA astronauts Koichi Wakata and Anna Kekina, the only astronaut at Roscosmos, on SpaceX’s “Endurance” program.
Christoforiti will hand the matter over to Prokopyev before she returns to Earth.
The Rubio and Kekina flights into space were arranged under a new crew exchange agreement between NASA and Roscosmos. By transporting crew members to each other, the two space agencies ensure that at least one American astronaut and at least one Russian cosmonaut are on board the station, which is necessary to keep the complex operating at full capacity.
“I think this crew exchange really represents the ongoing effort of the tremendous teams on both sides and the amazing people who made it happen,” said Rubio. “I think it’s important when we are in moments of potential interest elsewhere that spaceflight and human exploration – something that both agencies incredibly love – remain a form of diplomacy and partnership where we can find common ground and continue to achieve things together.”
In exchange for Rubio’s flight on Soyuz, Kekina is assigned to SpaceX Dragon. The crew, which was in its last place when NASA was still flying its winged space shuttles, replaces NASA, which had to buy seats from Russia. Between 2006 and 2020, NASA purchased 71 seats on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft at an average cost of $56.3 million per seat (or $3.9 billion in total).
Prokopyev, 47, on his second flight into space. Previously serving as a flight engineer on the station’s 56th and 57th flight crews, he logged 197 days in orbit in 2018.
Petlin, 39, and Rubio, 46, on their first spaceflight. Petelin was named an astronaut in 2012, five years before Rubio, a US Army flight surgeon, began training to become an astronaut at NASA.
The Soyuz MS-22 is Russia’s 68th Soyuz to be launched to the International Space Station since 2000 and 151 to fly since 1967.