NASA might continue to use the Russian Soyuz to fly its astronauts. Bill Gerstenmaier, who is the associate administrator for human exploration and operations for NASA, and senior NASA leadership in a statement told that their intention is to have U.S. astronauts on the Russian Soyuz vehicles and Russian astronauts on U.S. crew vehicles after 2019.
Till 2019, NASA and Russia have an agreement to fly crews on Soyuz. The astronauts who have flown recently to the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec 3 have used the Russian Soyuz. These astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth on a Soyuz again in six months.
NASA will use Soyuz to launch the crew for Expedition 59 which is slated on Feb 28. The mission will include two American astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague. Hague was one of the cosmonauts who experienced the abort on Expedition 57 recently in October. For Hague, Expedition 59 will count as his second trip to space, whereas Koch is flying for the first time.
Since 2011, NASA is relying on Russian vehicles to go to the ISS as it retired its space shuttle program. NASA with two other commercial crew providers, SpaceX and Boeing, are now close to bringing new vehicles for crews online. SpaceX has recently announced its test of an uncrewed flight. NASA will use these vehicles after certifying them.
NASA has already revealed the list of nine U.S. astronauts who will fly on SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner. NASA stated that these flights will be fully operational and will facilitate missions just like Soyuz.
As per Stephanie Schierholz, who works in public affairs at NASA Headquarters, having both U.S. and Russian vehicles simultaneously will provide redundancy in crew transportation to the ISS. She added that the intent is to have mixed crews on all vehicles traveling to the space station.
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