It’s been forty years. Now, the Soyuz TMA-17M and the next handshake in space look both like they will continue the tradition which was first seen 40 years ago, to the date. Back then, Alexey Leonov and Tom Stafford, of Russia and US respectively, shook hands in what would become an historic event.
Three days from now, the rocket will boost off into space, in an effort to bring three new astronauts to the International Space Station. These three are U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, and Oleg Kononenko, their Russian counterpart. They will be joining an existing crew of one American and two Russians.
Up until Christmas, the crew will be working together before returning to Earth. At about 400 miles above our planet, the ISS stands as a symbol of international cooperation. It completes close to sixteen orbits in a single day, and is used for many experiments that test systems for future missions to space. Particularly it is now intended to test systems for the upcoming mission to Mars that NASA plans for 2030.
Yet NASA isn’t the only space agency which is involved with the ISS. According to the Global Space Exploration Strategy, established in 2007, there are now as many as 16 different space agencies. These are, besides NASA, the Russian space agency Roscosmos, ESA (the European Space Agency), as well as the Chinese, Japanese, and Indian space agencies, to name some of the most significant.
You may remember that the history of space exploration is not that international, and especially not that cooperative. During the Cold War, the Americans and the USSR were engaged in a so-called “Space Race.” From this race there resulted the first man-made satellite into orbit, the Sputnik which was sent in 1957, the first man that ever went to space – famous Yuri Gagarin in 1961, as well as the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963.
To these constant defeats the US responded by increasing the funding for NASA, and eventually launching the Apollo 11 in 1969. This mission successfully sent Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon, the latter two actually waking on the surface of the Moon. Last week was the 46th anniversary of this event.
As the launch of the next Soyuz spacecraft draws closer and closer, the hopes are up that amid all the geopolitical tensions that have arisen as of recent, the fruitful collaboration between the US and the Russians, that has lasted for so long, will continue.
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