In an extraordinary moment of international cooperation and scientific endeavor, a NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts embarked on a momentous journey toward the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday. This launch marked a significant milestone as it was the first time in nearly a year that Russia had sent astronauts to the orbiting outpost.
The Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft roared to life from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at precisely 11:44 a.m. ET, initiating a rapid, three-hour trajectory that would lead them to rendezvous with the space station.
Onboard the spacecraft was NASA’s Loral O’Hara, an astronaut chosen by NASA in 2017 who had previously worked as a research engineer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Accompanying her were two Russian colleagues, Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub.
This historic launch was broadcast by NASA, with coverage commencing at 10:45 a.m. ET, allowing audiences worldwide to witness this extraordinary event. The launch was accessible through various platforms, including NASA Television, the NASA app, the agency’s website, and its YouTube channel.
For O’Hara and Chub, this mission represents their inaugural spaceflight, while Kononenko brings with him a wealth of experience, marking his fifth journey into space, as reported by NASA.
The trio embarked on a two-orbit, three-hour trajectory that would ultimately lead them to dock on the ISS’s Rassvet module at 2:56 p.m. After docking, they would be warmly welcomed aboard.
O’Hara was set to begin a six-month mission, while Kononenko and Chub had a year-long stay ahead of them at the space station. Their arrival marked a crucial transition, as they would take over operations from a trio of crew members who had been aboard the ISS for nearly a year, having launched aboard the Soyuz MS-22 vehicle.
Among the crew members already in space is NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who had already set a new U.S. record for the most consecutive days in orbit earlier in the mission.
With the arrival of O’Hara, Kononenko, and Chub, the MS-22 crew is expected to finally make their long-awaited return to Earth, potentially as soon as September 27. This return would see Rubio surpassing the previous U.S. record by more than two weeks and becoming the first American astronaut to spend a full calendar year in space.
Rubio and O’Hara were part of a crew-swapping agreement between NASA and Roscosmos, which was forged in the summer of 2022. In exchange for American astronauts traveling aboard Russian Soyuz vehicles, SpaceX, NASA’s ISS transportation partner, has included Russian cosmonauts on its flights to the ISS.
Despite geopolitical tensions between the United States and Russia due to the war in Ukraine, NASA has repeatedly emphasized the vital importance of its partnership with Roscosmos for the continuity of the space station’s operations and the invaluable scientific research conducted aboard.