Roscosmos selects first cosmonaut for commercial crew flights
WASHINGTON — The head of Roscosmos announced Dec. 8 that the agency has selected the first cosmonaut to go on a SpaceX commercial crew mission to the International Space Station, although a seat barter agreement between NASA and Roscosmos is still being finalized.
Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Roscosmos, tweeted Dec. 8 that cosmonaut Anna Kikina will go to the ISS in the fall of 2022 “as part of the crew of an American commercial spacecraft.” In exchange, a NASA astronaut would be part of a crew of a Soyuz mission to the station launching in the same time frame.
Kikina is the only woman currently active in the Russian cosmonaut corps. She was selected in 2012 but has yet to fly in space, although Rogozin and other Russian officials had previously said she would fly in the fall of 2022. She would likely be on the Crew-5 Crew Dragon mission, to which NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata are currently assigned.
Neither Rogozin nor Roscosmos provided additional details about the flight, with Roscosmos simply tweeting a quote from Rogozin’s statement.
Rogozin’s comment, though, suggested that Roscosmos and NASA had completed a long-sought agreement to swap seats on Soyuz and commercial crew missions, creating what NASA has called “mixed crews” on those vehicles. That approach ensures that there will be at least one Roscosmos cosmonaut and one NASA astronaut on the station at any time should either Soyuz or commercial crew vehicles be grounded for an extended period.
Despite the statement by Rogozin, a NASA spokesman said late Dec. 8 that the agencies were still working to complete a seat barter agreement. “As planned, NASA and Roscosmos are finalizing the details to an agreement where we would routinely fly astronauts and cosmonauts to the International Space Station on each other’s spacecraft,” Josh Finch said in a statement to SpaceNews. “In parallel, we will be conducting the necessary training for integrated crew operations. We look forward to continued international cooperation aboard the space station.”
Finch confirmed that the Crew-5 mission remains scheduled for the fall of 2022. “We will provide additional information on crew assignments in the future,” he said.
The efforts to finalize a seat barter agreement come during heightened geopolitical tensions between Russia and the United States as Russia moves military forces to its borders with Ukraine. U.S. officials have warned in recent days that Russia may be preparing for an invasion of Ukraine early next year.
The effect any military action might have on U.S.-Russian cooperation on the ISS remains unclear. Such cooperation was largely unaffected by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine, given the mutual dependence the two countries have on each other for ISS operations.
The White House, in a readout after a Dec. 7 video call between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Biden informed Putin that the U.S. and its allies “would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation.” The readout did not elaborate on those measures, and did not specifically mention any effects on space cooperation.
In a later briefing with reporters, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration would not publicly discuss specifics about measures it would take if Russia invaded Ukraine. “But we are laying out for the Russians in some detail the types of measures that we have in mind,” he said, working in coordination with European governments.
He added that “that things we did not do in 2014 we are prepared to do now.”