MOSCOW, March 10. /TASS/. The flight by US astronaut Mark Vande Hei aboard a Russian manned Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft has nothing to do with cross flights by Roscosmos and NASA crews and will be a one-time event, Roscosmos Executive Director for Piloted Space Programs Sergei Krikalyov said in a live broadcast of the Rossiya-24 TV Channel on Wednesday.
"There are no talks about a swap of seats. Negotiations on cross flights are underway but this is a different story. Simply, there is a vacant seat and a US company has signed a contract with us, buying a seat aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. This is a one-time event," the Roscosmos official said.
Cross flights by Russian cosmonauts and US astronauts are "quite a different story and are unrelated in any way to the April 9 flight," he explained.
"But the talk on cross flights has long been ongoing in professional circles. Both sides agree that this will be useful. This is not a purchase or a sale of a seat but rather distributing the crew among different spacecraft. This is done to ensure that representatives of both sides always remain at the station in case of delays or incidents," the Roscosmos official explained.
Therefore, representatives of both sides will always stay aboard the orbital outpost in case of any delays, he stressed. "This is also expedient from the viewpoint of safety but there are still some legal nuances both we and the US side have to resolve," Krikalyov said.
Roscosmos announced on March 10 that cosmonaut Sergei Korsakov had been excluded from the basic crew of the piloted Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft and would be replaced by NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. In the back-up crew, cosmonaut Dmitry Petelin would be replaced by NASA astronaut Anne McClain, it said.
According to the Russian state space corporation, this decision was made in line with the current commitments under an agreement with Axiom Space on a space flight of a professional US astronaut aboard the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft. Roscosmos stressed that it had made this decision in order to confirm "commitment to joint agreements and the spirit of the joint use of the International Space Station."
Vande Hei is due to travel to the orbital outpost together with Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov.
"The seat aboard the Russian Soyuz MS spacecraft has been assigned to NASA pursuant to a contract signed with its contractor Axiom Space. The sum of the deal is a commercial secret," the Roscosmos press office explained.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said in a statement earlier on Wednesday it had not paid for the April 9 flight of a US astronaut on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft to the International Space Station. Instead, it provided a seat on the US spacecraft, which is due to be launched in 2023, it specified.
In turn, Roscosmos told TASS that Russia and the United States had reached no agreement yet on cross flights aboard Russian Soyuz and American CrewDragon spacecraft.