A Russian cosmonaut said “the war will end everywhere” while handing over command of the space station Wednesday (September 28) to Samantha Christofority, now the first European woman in charge of the orbiting laboratory.
The entirety of the current Expedition 67 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) occurred during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began in February. Media reports in recent days indicate that Russia is now turning to recruiting soldiers amid ongoing Ukrainian resistance.
Cristoforetti takes charge of the space station as its various partners assure continued cooperation in space despite the struggle on Earth. (In particular, SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station next week with a Russian cosmonaut on board — a first for an American privately manned spacecraft.)
Related: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: cosmonauts share their unique perspective
Cristoforetti is the fifth European captain (Opens in a new tab) From the International Space Station, following Frank de Winne, Alexander Gerst, Luca Parmitano and Thomas Pesquet, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). During the leadership change ceremony on Wednesday, outgoing commander Oleg Artemyev confirmed that the complex currently hosts 10 people representing three countries: Russia, the United States and Italy.
“This means that in spite of everything, despite all the storms on Earth, we continue our international cooperation, thank God there are smart people who do not stop this thread of peace,” Artemyev said in Russian. (This translation was provided by Google from an automated transcript of his speech.)
Cristoforetti’s order would require it to take charge of on-site crew activities on the International Space Station, including “crew performance and welfare in orbit, maintaining effective communication with teams on the ground, and coordinating the emergency crew response,” ESA officials wrote. The mission will lead 68, which officially begins when Artemyev and fellow cosmonauts Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov leave the orbiting laboratory early Thursday (September 29) aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
ISS is a multinational federation with the United States and Russia as majority partners; ESA also plays a major role, albeit slightly less. Relations between the European Space Agency and Russia were strained by the invasion of Ukraine, however, it delayed the ExoMars rover mission that was supposed to launch earlier this year, among other effects.
Artemyev, 51, was about five years old during the pilot Apollo-Soyuz test project. That 1975 mission only took a few days, but was significant because it happened during the thaw in the space race and the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. This was the last major human space cooperation between these partners until the space shuttle Mir space station programme, which occurred in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and served as an important proof base for the International Space Station. (Russia was led by Mir, which emerged as an independent country after the fall of the Soviet Union.)
Artemyev, who served with the Soviet army before the collapse of the nation in 1991, said of Apollo: “There were also difficult relations between states, and there were people who found this path, which will eventually lead to peace.” Soyuz. And in the end our war will end everywhere.
Related: Apollo-Soyuz astronaut hopes to change US-Russia relations in space
Artemyev said that Expedition 67, one of the very few international space cooperation left by Russia after the invasion of Ukraine, was fruitful.
He stated that the crew had done “a lot of spacewalks” mostly to service the newly arrived European robotic arm on the Russian part of the space station. (Cristoforitti conducted a rare European walk in space in the Russian Orlan spacesuit as part of this work; she was the first European woman to wear that suit in space.)
In between, Mission 67 has conducted an estimated 200 experiments in orbit. Three times resident of the International Space Station, Artemyev joked that he had never seen “tired American cosmonauts” before, as a result of which “time passes very quickly for them.”
Artemyev added that for him, Matveev and Korsakov, Flight 67 “was an unforgettable time”, and urged the crew to seek help if necessary. “Call us, we will come to your aid,” he said, before handing over a key symbolizing the transfer of power to Cristoforetti.
Pictures: Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti takes the historic first female spacewalk in Europe
Christoforiti did not directly refer to the invasion of Ukraine in her remarks during Wednesday’s party, but thanked Artemyev for his generosity and hard work in a short speech.
“I think you really helped us grow together, not only as crew members and fellow crew members, but also — like I said — as one big space family,” she said in English. Then I thanked all the control centers (from Moscow to Munich) because we are “just a small part of a giant team on Earth”.
From her command, the two-time astronaut said it was an “honor and privilege” to represent Europe, and especially Italy, on the International Space Station. Switching to Italian, in the notes also translated by Google, she thanked those who supported her in her country.
“If you were here today, [it is] Thanks to the great commitment to the remarkable results that our country has achieved and will continue to achieve in the space sector.”