Two Russian cosmonauts and a US astronaut arrived aboard a Soyuz capsule on the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday, in the only case of cooperation despite deep tensions between Moscow and Washington. Veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and his partner Nikolai Tchoub, along with NASA astronaut Loral O'HaraLeur, left Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in the middle of the night at 15:44 GMT as planned, aboard the Soyuz MS-24 rocket. The crew arrived at the ISS three hours later, the Russian space agency announced in a press release.
"It's a very special moment and a great feeling to be part of something that is bigger than us and that has brought so many people together. I am excited about this mission," forty-year-old O'Hara said at a press conference in Baikonur. For her, this is her first flight into space.
"The atmosphere is good and the crew is ready to carry out all the tasks assigned to them," said Nikolai Chub, 39, also on his first flight. He added that space travel was "a childhood dream" to which he had dedicated "his whole life." The three astronauts will replace Russians Sergei Prokopiev and Dmitri Peteline and American Frank Rubio, who arrived aboard the ISS a year ago. Their mission had been extended due to damage to the Soyuz MS-22 re-entry spacecraft, which suffered a spectacular loss while docked with the ISS in December 2022, due, according to Moscow, to the impact of a micrometeorite. The Russian space agency therefore decided to use it only in emergencies and opted to send the MS-23 spacecraft as a replacement. The space sector is one of the few remaining areas of cooperation between Russia and the United States, in a context of strong tensions due to the conflict in Ukraine. American Loral O'Hara said the ISS is "a symbol of peace and cooperation."
"Unlike what happens on Earth, where nations often don't get along, up there we get along, understand each other and are very sensitive to our relationships. We always take care of each other," Kononenko, 59, added.