Russian cosmonauts unfurled a Soviet flag in front of the International Space Station during a spacewalk on Friday. The ISS, which is usually spared nationalist pronouncements, has also experienced tensions since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.
Oleg Artemyev and Denys Matveev had been working for seven hours in their spacesuits outside the International Space Station’s Russian Nauka module when they paused and unfurled a red flag embroidered with a hammer and sickle. It is a replica of the “Siegesbanner”, the flag planted by the Soviet Army on the Reichstag when Berlin was taken by the Red Army in 1945.
Is this a simple homage to the upcoming May 9 celebration in Moscow to commemorate Nazi Germany’s surrender? Or is that an allusion to the war in Ukraine? Currently, only the two cosmonauts have the answer, but the gesture makes a lot of noise.
Proof that partnership projects continue
While the ISS has always been spared from terrestrial crises, things look more ambivalent today. This spacewalk, the 53rd on the Russian side, was in preparation for the installation of the European ERA robotic arm on Russia’s Nauka module. A sign that the partnership projects started before the war are being continued up there despite sanctions withdrawals. But at the same time, a German astronaut, Matthias Maurer, who is currently on a mission aboard the station, was supposed to take part in this excursion before he was finally released.
The Russian cosmonauts had already stayed in their quarters earlier this month when a new American crew arrived. Granted, this Axiom 1 mission, the first fully private one aboard the ISS, wasn’t part of the “official” rotations, but it’s customary to welcome any newcomer to orbit.
Space is a medium very attached to symbols and this gesture has not gone unnoticed, especially since this trap was repeated on April 27 when four astronauts, including Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, arrived from Crew-4. This was a classic crew rotation. The cosmonauts then slept the night before their spacewalk, which is always a physically demanding activity.
Russia could withdraw from the project
Stringed together, these elements raise questions, although all astronauts and cosmonauts repeat again and again that the atmosphere in orbit is excellent. On the ground, however, things are more complicated, because all cooperation with Russia suffered from the war in Ukraine. So much so that Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, is now proposing Moscow to withdraw from the project.
Russia’s next spacewalk, EVA-54, scheduled for May 7 should provide some answers. Samantha Cristoforetti is deemed to be attending. It remains to be seen whether she will experience the same misfortune as her colleague from the European Space Agency Matthias Maurer, or whether she will be the first European to take part in a spacewalk under Russian leadership.
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