The United States and Russia may be at sharp odds with each other over Ukraine, Syria, and Edward Snowden. But the two powers cheered in unison when a Russian rocket successfully launched Friday bearing much-needed supplies for the International Space Station.
After two failed attempts – one American, one Russian – in recent weeks to send a food, water, and toothpaste-laden chuck wagon to the space station’s crew, Friday’s problem-free liftoff was applauded all around – no matter what flag the rocket bore.
The shared sighs of relief and congratulatory high-fives were also a reminder that even with Russo-American relations at a post-cold-war low, Washington and Moscow are managing to set their differences to one side to cooperate in other areas.
Yes, the US is threatening Russia with even tougher sanctions over its aggressive stance toward Ukraine. And some Russian officials have recently resurrected Soviet-sounding, “we will bury you” warnings of nuclear confrontation – incineration was one term used – if the US persists in sending heavy weaponry to the former Soviet republics on Russia’s western border.
But at the same time, Russian and American diplomats are largely on the same page in the international negotiations to reach a deal with Iran restraining its nuclear program. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have met regularly as the talks head for a deal-or-no-deal deadline next Tuesday.
And while Russia may not be a member of the 60-country coalition that President Obama has formed to “degrade and destroy” the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Russian President Vladimir Putin has every reason to root for the coalition’s success, given his own battles with Islamist extremists.
Then there’s the International Space Station – which ever since the retirement of America’s space shuttle fleet in 2011 has relied on Russian spacecraft for getting fresh crews to the orbiting station.
Friday’s successful launch of a Russian Soyuz rocket, carrying more than three tons of food, water, living supplies, and equipment, followed the explosion just five days ago of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket shortly after liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The SpaceX rocket was riding to the rescue of a space station crew that had already had to forgo the replenishment of supplies that were aboard a Russian cargo capsule launched in April. The capsule failed to separate from its rocket and burned as it crashed back to Earth.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials emphasized after each failed cargo launch that the space station’s crew was in no danger of running low on essential supplies. But by Friday’s third attempt, it was clear that officials and crew alike were getting a little antsy.
“Third time’s the charm, I hope,” NASA astronaut Scott Kelly said from the space station in a NASA agency interview just a few hours before Friday’s liftoff. “We are hoping to get this one, obviously,” added the retired Navy captain, who is in the middle of a yearlong space station assignment. Currently the six-person station has a three-person crew – Mr. Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts.
Kelly had tweeted to the world on Sunday, the day the SpaceX rocket exploded, “Today was a reminder spaceflight is hard” – before adding, “Tomorrow is a new day.”
When the Russian cargo capsule makes its scheduled Sunday arrival at the station, Kelly will no doubt be happy that the terrestrial troubles marring the US-Russia relationship do not extend to outer space.