3 Russian cosmonauts arrive at the International Space Station

MOSCOW (AP) — A trio of Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station on Friday, the first new faces in space since Russia’s war in Ukraine began.

Russian space company Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveyev and Sergey Korsakov successfully lifted off from Russia’s leased launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan in their Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft at 8:55 p.m. Friday (11:55 a.m. EDT). They docked smoothly at the station just over three hours later, joining two Russians, four Americans and a German on the orbiting outpost.

The liftoff marked the first launch by a space crew since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The war led to canceled spacecraft launches and broken contracts. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has warned the United States should use “broomsticks” to fly in space after Russia said it would stop supplying rocket engines to American companies. However, many fear that Rogozin could jeopardize decades of peaceful off-planet partnership, including on the International Space Station.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson played down Rogozin’s comments, telling The Associated Press, “It’s just Dmitry Rogozin. It springs from time to time. But in the end, he worked with us,”

“Other people who work in the Russian civilian space program are professionals,” Nelson told the AP on Friday. “They don’t miss a beat with us American astronauts and American mission control. Despite all this, in space we can have cooperation with our Russian friends, our colleagues.”

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei – who on Tuesday broke the US record for a single 340-day spaceflight – is due to depart the International Space Station with two Russians aboard a Soyuz capsule for a March 30 landing in Kazakhstan.

In April, three more NASA astronauts and an Italian astronaut are scheduled to take off for the space station.

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