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US-Russian trio docks at International Space Station

April 9, 2021

Two of Russia's Roscosmos cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut docked safely on a mission in honor of the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person in space.

The Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft launch.
The takeoff was from a different launchpad than the one used for Gagarin's one and only mission Image: ROSCOSMOS via REUTERS

Three space travelers successfully launched on Friday from Russia's Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan and reached the International Space Station (ISS). 

They launched just a few days before the 60th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person in space.

Russia's Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov, along with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, launched their half-year mission aboard the orbital lab from the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan, NASA said on Twitter. 

The trio docked at the ISS after a two-orbit journey that lasted just over three hours.

They had taken off in the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft that carried the legendary cosmonaut Gagarin's name. His portrait has been added to its exterior.

"We'll celebrate it together," Dubrov was quoted as saying before his first trip to space, according to AFP. "And we'll work hard!"

The crew is set to work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science during their mission. 

Two Russian cosmonauts, four US astronauts and one from Japan are set to welcome the Soyuz MS-18 crew members at the ISS, some 400 kilometers (289 miles) above Earth. 

"Hey, Expedition 64 – set the dinner table for 10 tonight," NASA's Vande Hei said to the ISS crew members on Twitter. 

How has the space industry changed? 

Six decades since Gagarin's launch, the space industry has witnessed major changes. 

Last year, Russia lost its monopoly over manned ISS launches as Elon Musk's SpaceX delivered NASA astronauts to the station from American soil. 

But Russia has also seen opportunity in space cooperation with the West despite geopolitical rows.  

"When we first started, we were competing with each other and that was one of the reasons we were so successful at the beginning of human space flight," Vande Hei was quoted as saying by AFP ahead of the Friday launch.  

"As time went on we realized we could achieve a bit more working together ... I hope that will continue into the future." 

Russia celebrates Gagarin's historic 1961 flight on April 12 every year as Cosmonautics Day.

To the Cosmodrome, and Beyond

fb/msh (AFP, dpa) 

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