Space cooperation between the United States and Russia continues | time

a The 92-year-old man who attended on Wednesday October 5 the launch of the newest crew to the International Space Station (ISS) was ignored by many people. He was there among the most prestigious, and truth be told, he was easy to miss. His name is Tom Stafford, and it doesn’t sound like he did in the days of the Gemini and Apollo programs, when he flew into space four times—once one commanding Apollo 10 in 1969, driving his lunar module into 14,325 m (47,000 ft) from the lunar surface , in a final rehearsal for the Apollo 11 moon landing, which will come in two months.

But he is equally well known for a mission he flew six years later, in July 1975, as one of the leaders of the Apollo-Soyuz test project – the first joint spacecraft mission between the United States and the old Soviet Union. At the time, the feuding nations were at choke points on Earth but wanted to Show the world that in space, at least, arch foes could have been close friends. And that’s the same message Stafford’s presence was meant to deliver this week.

Things have gotten worse between Washington and Moscow again, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February and the sanctions regime that the United States and other Western countries have put in place in response. At first it seemed that US-Russian cooperation aboard the ISS had escaped growing hostility, but in July, Dmitry Rogozin, the former head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, threatened that his country would withdraw from the ISS partnership in response to sanctions, with a scheduled The split sometime after 2024. It seems that the high ground of space has become just another arena for low-key political action.

But things have brightened since then. In July, Rogozin was replaced as head of Roscosmos by Yuri Borisov, and once the new president took charge even Russia backed away from its threat to abandon the International Space Station, saying it had plans to build its own — which it might not be. To be completed until the end of the decade – and only when that happens will the space station partnership dissolve.

Immediately, Roscosmos and NASA also agreed to a new seat-sharing arrangement under which a NASA astronaut would fly aboard each Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station, and a Russian cosmonaut would, in turn, fly aboard each Spacecraft. X Crew Dragon. Just over two weeks ago, astronaut Frank Rubio took off on a Soyuz craft bound for the International Space Station, and junior astronaut Anna Kekina aboard the Crew Dragon on Wednesday’s launch, is the fifth Russian woman in space.

Stafford, who was called for the launch this week as a living symbol of US-Russian space cooperation, did not address the press after the launch. But Sergei Krikalev, head of the human spaceflight program at the Russian space agency Roscosmos, did just that. Clearly, he had in mind the veteran astronaut’s accomplishments.

“We continue what we started many years ago in 1975, when the Apollo Soyuz crew worked together,” he said at a post-launch press conference. This continuity extends until at least 2024, with more seat swaps firmly scheduled, and others likely to follow.

Joint missions have more than symbolic value. American and Russian aviation together ensure that there is always at least one crew member aboard the station from each country, which is essential to station operations, since NASA astronauts are more familiar with the work of the American part of the station, and Roscosmos astronauts are more skilled at operating the units Russian. None of this completely cancels out of course geopolitics. On Earth, 400 kilometers (250 mi) below the International Space Station, the war in Ukraine is still raging. But at the top, at least, there is lasting peace.

This story originally appeared in TIME Space, our weekly newsletter that covers all things. You can register here.

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write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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