NASA Makes Deal to Fly Russian Cosmonauts on Crew Dragon

NASA finalized a deal with Russia’s Roscomos to fly two Russian cosmonauts on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Roscosmos will provide two seats on the Soyuz for NASA’s astronauts.

NASA typically pays $55 million a seat for flights on the Crew Dragon as part of the Commercial Crew program. Flights on the Soyuz can cost as much as $90 million per seat.

Cosmonauts Anna Kikina and Andrei Fedyaev will fly on separate Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station scheduled for September 2022 and the spring of 2023. NASA assigned astronauts Frank Rubio and Loral O’Hara to the Soyuz flights.

SpaceX and the International Space Station has been the subject of disparaging comments from Russian politicians in the wake of diplomatic tensions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Dmitry Rogozin threatened to use the Russian modules to deorbit the space station, possibly raining debris on Europe or southern Asia. He also directly threatened Elon Musk in the wake of SpaceX sending Starlink terminals to Ukraine. Elon Musk posted a screenshot with a recap of Rogozin’s comments.

Musk also had this to say about it in a likely reference to Russia’s history of assassinating individuals in other countries:

Although Musk likely meant his comments lightly, his mother didn’t seem to appreciate his humor:

Rogozin has since been replaced as the head of Roscosmos. Russian deputy prime minister of space and defense Yury Borisov will take the reins as Roscosmos’ new chief.

Rogozin previously said that perhaps NASA’s astronauts could reach the International Space Station on “broomsticks” after an announcement that Russia will no longer sell rocket engines to the United States. Unlike some competitors, SpaceX makes its own rocket engines.

During the previous invasion of Crimea in 2014, Rogozin also said that NASA could use a trampoline to send astronauts to the International Space Station. After the launch of SpaceX’s successful Demo-2 mission in 2020, Elon Musk retorted, “The trampoline is working!”

The deal between NASA and Roscosmos was announced – and possibly finalized – after Rogozin departed. The deal had been in the works for months, with Russia previously floating some tentative plans to assign Anna Kikina to the Crew Dragon.

Despite both space agencies’ continued interest in cooperation even in the face of Rogozin’s bluster, some other international partners questioned the viability of working with Russia in future space ventures.

Now-former UK prime minister Boris Johnson referred to the ways that continued diplomatic tensions with Russia can affect major collaborative projects like the International Space Station, “I’ve been broadly in favor of continuing artistic and scientific collaboration, but in the current circumstances, it’s hard to see how even those can continue as normal.”

The European Space Agency terminated a deal with Russia to launch the ExoMars rover, jeopardizing its chances of launching in September 2022 as planned. An ideal launch window to Mars opens once every 26 months. The ESA is currently considering collaborating more closely with NASA on future missions.

Even with the current diplomatic tensions with Russia, NASA seems committed to pressing forward with its plans to keep the International Space Station operational until at least 2030. The current deal will permit both Russia and the United States to maintain access to the International Space Station even if something happens to either the Soyuz or the SpaceX Crew Dragon.