US-Russia Tensions, Not in Space
Two American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS).
The three were launched from the Baikonur space port in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
The launch comes at a time of increased tensions between Russia and the United States. Yet experts note that the two sides continue working together in space.
Amy Shira Teitel is a space flight historian. She notes that NASA, the U.S. space agency, depends on Russia to reach the space station.
The Soyuz MS-08 rocket launches at 1:44pm ET today with @Astro_Ricky, @Astro_Feustel and @OlegMKS heading to their new home in space. https://t.co/V11ELeyyY3 pic.twitter.com/mtR9IC1RPq
— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) March 21, 2018
“Currently, Russia’s our only way up to orbit for the International Space Station and for any other human mission."
Cathleen Lewis is with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. She works as a curator in the museum’s Space History Department.
Lewis says, since 2011, NASA has worked to develop its next generation of spacecraft. That means the space agency is depending on Russian cooperation.
Competitors cooperate even during Cold War
Cooperation in space between the two sides started in the 1970s during the Cold War. It was a period of intense competition between western countries and the Soviet Union.
But in 1975, an Apollo spacecraft linked up with a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft in Earth orbit. Cosmonauts and astronauts shook hands in space.
Lewis said that joint project was important.
“That created a bond, but also the knowledge that we could do this, even in the height of the Cold War, and probably one of the worse periods of the Cold War. That both sides could get together and do this, unperturbed by the politics going on around them.”
The “space race” between the United States and Russia ended in 1969 when NASA’s Apollo 11 brought two men to the moon.
However, space travel is dangerous and both the American and Soviet space programs suffered losses in their efforts to outdo each other in space.
The Apollo-Soyuz mission served to show that the two sides could work together in cooperation towards safety.
Currently, the U.S., Russia and 13 other countries cooperate to operate and supply the space station.
Future space missions will need even more cooperation because of the costs involved. Lewis said this model is likely to be important.
"It is going to take a lot of money, a lot of resources to ship there to make either the Moon or Mars habitable for humans. This will likely be the model in which humans explore our celestial neighbors in the solar system."
Currently, cooperation remains the only way to get American astronauts to the ISS.
American companies SpaceX and Boeing, however, are expected to have spacecraft able to safely carry humans in coming years.