By | 26 Aug 2022 at 7:53 PM

Russia would be ready to extend a deal with the United States to share flights to the International Space Station beyond 2024 if the first three flights are successful, the executive director of Russia’s space agency said on Friday. NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos signed an agreement in July allowing Russian cosmonauts to fly on U.S.-made spacecraft in exchange for American astronauts being able to ride on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.

Russia’s RIA news agency reported at the time that the agreement envisaged six flights in total between 2022 and 2024, with each country getting three flights each on the other’s spacecraft. “The agreement has now been signed for the first three flights,” said Sergei Krikalev, executive director of Roscosmos

“If the implementation of this agreement will be positive then we will certainly continue it.” The deal is an unusual example of Moscow and Washington still cooperating at a time when ties are at a post-Cold War low due to tensions over what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, a conflict the West calls an unprovoked war of aggression.

Russia has cast doubt over space cooperation in other areas and spoken of pulling out of the International Space Station after 2024 to develop its own orbital station. It has so far sent mixed messages however, suggesting that date could significantly slip. The flight sharing agreement signed in July will see Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina fly on a Crew Dragon spacecraft developed by U.S. aerospace manufacturer SpaceX in the autumn.

Kikina, who will be the first cosmonaut to fly on a Crew Dragon ship, told reporters on Friday she was initially shocked to learn she would not fly on Soyuz, Russia’s flagship spacecraft that has been used since the 1960s. “Well considering the fact that all my professional life I was preparing to fly on Soyuz, I was preparing for it, in principle, and was focusing on it… suddenly the thought settled in my head that – no – I’m not flying a Soyuz, how can that be?” Kikina said.

“But then I had a rethink. Yes I realised that I might be going on another ship, but with the knowledge that I would definitely go on Soyuz too.” She said she would be observing the U.S. tradition of driving to the launch pad in a Tesla produced by the carmaker headed by billionaire Elon Musk, who also founded SpaceX.

“Of course I will observe crew traditions, because I am part of this crew,” she said. Space exploration was one of the few areas where the Soviet Union and the United States cooperated during the Cold War, culminating in a symbolic “space handshake” between a cosmonaut and an astronaut during the Apollo–Soyuz mission in 1975.

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