A NASA astronaut heads to the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket

A NASA astronaut heads to the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket

Maxim Shemetov – Reuters

The Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft carrying a crew of NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara and Roscosmos astronauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub lifts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan on September 15, 2023.

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A NASA astronaut on her inaugural spaceflight and two cosmonauts aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft blasted off toward the International Space Station on Friday, the first time Russia has launched astronauts to the orbital outpost in nearly a year.

The Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:44 a.m. ET and began a rapid three-hour trajectory to rendezvous with the space station.

The crew on board includes NASA’s Loral O’Hara, a former research engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who was selected to NASA’s astronaut corps in 2017. Flying alongside her are two Russian colleagues, Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub.

Once they arrive at the space station, the group will prepare to take over operations from three crew members who have been on the space station for about a year after their launch aboard the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft.

That spacecraft A coolant leak has occurred in December 2022, which officials from NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos later said was caused by an external impact — most likely a piece of space debris that struck the outside of the vehicle during docking with the International Space Station.

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Roscosmos decided that MS-22 was not safe enough to fly the crew home and launched a replacement spacecraft in February. This left the MS-22 crew stranded in the orbiting laboratory while Roscosmos prepared another vehicle to resume regular crew rotation.

The MS-22 crew includes NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who had an unexpectedly long stay in space He broke the American record for the most days in a row into orbit earlier this month.

After O’Hara, Kononenko and Chubb arrive and take over operations, Rubio and company are expected to make their long-awaited return to Earth on September 27. This would give Rubio a total of 371 days in space, beating the previous duration. Register for more than two weeks. (The late Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who logged 437 continuous days in orbit, still holds the world record for longest mission in space.)

Vyacheslav Osiledko/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara, far left, and Russian Roscosmos astronauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub, members of the main crew of ISS Expedition 70-71, walk to report to the head of Roscosmos during pre-launch preparations at the Russian-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday.

Rubio will also become the first American astronaut to spend an entire calendar year in space.

Rubio — and now O’Hara — traveled on Russian Soyuz vehicles as part of the trip Crew exchange agreement between NASA and Roscosmos, which was settled in the summer of 2022. In return, SpaceX, NASA’s ISS transportation partner, included Russian astronauts on its flights to the ISS.

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Despite geopolitical tensions between the United States and Russia as the war in Ukraine escalates, NASA has repeatedly said that its partnership with Roscosmos is vital to continuing space station operations and the valuable scientific research conducted aboard.

SpaceX’s latest flight receipt On the space station in August, carrying astronauts from NASA, Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency.

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