The Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft carrying the crew formed of NASA astronaut Loral O'Hara, Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub blasts off to the International Space Station (ISS) from the launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan September 15, 2023

Russian Soyuz with two cosmonauts, one US astronaut docks at International Space Station

Moscow: Two Russian cosmonauts and an astronaut from the United States have docked with the International Space Station (ISS) after taking off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan amid raging tensions between Moscow and Washington over the invasion of Ukraine, Al Jazeera reported.

Russia’s Roscosmos space agency said cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub and US NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara lifted off on Friday onboard the Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft.

The crew docked at the ISS three hours later, at 18:53 GMT, the Russian space agency said.

The trio will join the crew of three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese, along with a representative of the European Space Agency at the orbiting station.

The ISS remains a rare venue for cooperation between the US and Russia, whose ties broke down after Moscow unleashed its offensive in Ukraine last year, as per Al Jazeera.

Russia’s Kononenko alluded to the strained geopolitical tensions during a pre-flight press conference on Thursday, saying that “unlike on earth” cosmonauts and astronauts took care of each other in space, according to Al Jazeera.

He said: “We hear each other there, and we understand each other, and we are very sensitive to our relationships. We always take care of each other.”

The US’s O’Hara praised the station’s “legacy” and said it had been bringing the countries together.
“The arrival of three new crew members to the existing seven people already on board for Expedition 69 temporarily increases the station’s population to ten,” NASA said after the Soyuz docked with the ISS.

Kononenko, 59, and Chub, 39, are scheduled to spend a year on the ISS, while O’Hara, 40, is to spend six months on board. It was the first mission to space for O’Hara and Chub.

Kononenko, the mission commander, is on his fifth trip to the orbiting space station. By the end of his yearlong stay, Kononenko will set a new record for the longest time in space, more than a thousand days.

Chub said that travelling to space was his “childhood dream” and he had dedicated “all his life” to reaching that goal.

Friday’s launch was the first by Russia since last month’s loss of Russia’s Luna-25 module, which crashed on the Moon’s surface after an incident during pre-landing manoeuvres, in a huge embarrassment for Moscow, while India's similar spacecraft made a smooth soft landing on the surface of the Moon.

The Luna-25 mission was meant to mark Russia’s return to independent Moon exploration in the face of financial troubles and corruption scandals, and its growing isolation from the West amid its war on Ukraine.

Moscow last landed a probe on the Moon in 1976, before shifting away from lunar exploration in favour of missions to Venus and building the Mir space station.