Despite rocky U.S.-Russian relations, NASA astronaut set to fly with cosmonauts

U.S. astronaut Steven Swanson will liftoff onboard a Russian Soyuz rocket later today on a mission to the International Space Station

Despite growing disagreement between the United State and Russia over the latter's actions in Ukraine, a NASA astronaut and two cosmonauts are slated to fly tonight to to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The three astronauts are scheduled to lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:17 p.m. ET today. They are expected to dock at the space station less than six hours later at 11:04 p.m.

"NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency continue to work together in the mutual pursuit of peaceful space exploration," NASA said in a statement to Computerworld. "We do not expect the current Russia-Ukraine situation to have an impact on our longstanding civil space cooperation with Russia, which goes back decades, including our partnership on the International Space Station program."

A Russian Soyuz rocket sits on the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Photo: NASA)

NASA also noted that plans for its astronauts to head to and return from the space station onboard Russian spacecraft also remain in place.

The U.S. has been reliant on the Russians to ferry astronauts back and forth to the orbiter since retiring its fleet of space shuttles in the summer of 2011. NASA is now working with commercial space flight companies in an effort to launch astronauts from American soil once again by 2017.

NASA expects to choose later this year which American companies will transport astronauts to the space station.

"In the meantime, NASA and Roscosmos will continue to work with each other to maintain the space station, where humans have lived continuously for more than 13 years, and we are confident that our two space agencies will continue to work closely as they have throughout various ups and downs of the broader U.S.-Russia relationship," a NASA spokeswoman said.

The U.S. levied sanctions against Russia after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine earlier this month. U.S. President Barack Obama is in Europe this week, shoring up support for his opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin's tactics.

Earlier this week, the U.S. and its allies tossed Russia out of the influential Group of 8, an organization for the governments of eight of the world's largest national economies.

NASA Flight Engineer Steven Swanson will join Russian's Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev for today's trip to the space station. The three are set to remain aboard the station until mid-September.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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