Russians will fly on SpaceX's Crew-7, Crew-8 astronaut missions: report

crew dragon with hatch open berthed with canadarm2 at international space station
A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA plans to fly at least two more Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX spacecraft.

The agency is in talks to add a Russian cosmonaut to both SpaceX Crew-7 and Crew-8, which are the next two missions to the International Space Station (ISS), a report from SpaceNews suggests.

An agreement to carry a Russian on Crew-7, set to launch this fall, is "working ... through the Russian government and then back through, obviously, our side to get final agreement," Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, said during a March 2 virtual briefing following the successful launch of the Crew-6 mission early that morning.

The United States and Russia are continuing to fly "integrated crews" aboard their respective spacecraft in case either Russia's Soyuz spacecraft or U.S. commercial crew vehicles are not accessible for a long time, Lueders added. Negotiations are also ongoing for Crew-8, which is not expected to launch until 2024.

Related: SpaceX launches Crew-6 astronaut mission to space station for NASA

NASA used to be fully reliant upon Russia to get astronauts to orbit. The U.S. agency retired its space shuttle in 2011 and was working to get two commercial crew vehicles ready for replacement. All ISS crews used Soyuz for almost a decade, regardless of nationality, with NASA paying a per-seat price for access.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon flew people for the first time in 2020, but for nine years before that, NASA astronauts exclusively used Soyuz. Boeing's astronaut taxi, known as Starliner, has experienced development delays but is expected to fly its first crewed test flight this spring. 

Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos has access to SpaceX commercial crew flights through seat swap agreements that are negotiated ahead of crew assignments; NASA also continues to fly American astronauts aboard Soyuz, but to a lesser degree. 

Related: Russia's war on Ukraine has caused lasting damage to international spaceflight cooperation

Coolant leaking from Russia's Soyuz MS-22 crew capsule docked to the International Space Station on Dec. 14, 2022. Russia has replaced this spacecraft with Soyuz MS-23, to provide a ride home for two Russian cosmonauts and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio. (Image credit: NASA)

The current ISS manifest includes a Russian and an American who arrived through seat swaps: NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who is aboard Russia's Soyuz MS-23, and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, a member of SpaceX's Crew-5. 

Rubio's plans to come home to Earth have been changed due to his ride, Soyuz MS-22, springing a coolant leak in December following a micrometeoroid strike, according to Roscosmos. That spacecraft has been fully replaced with MS-23 (a new Soyuz), but NASA's backup plan while waiting was to squeeze Rubio into the Crew-5 spacecraft in case of emergency.

Seat negotiations have been somewhat complicated by Russia's year-long war in Ukraine, which has severed most of the nation's space partnerships. Russia plans to depart the ISS after 2028 to build its own independent space station. ISS relationships, however, have persisted with little issue, the agency partners have emphasized.

Related: How many astronauts can fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule?

SpaceX Crew-5 astronaut Anna Kikina, mission specialist, gets suited up to participate in a crew equipment interface test (CEIT) at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on Aug. 13, 2022. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Notably, Starliner is not yet included in the Russia-U.S. seat swap agreements, but Boeing is expected to include Russian cosmonauts after post-certification missions begin in 2024, Lueders said at the press conference.

"We would like to continue that every single crew rotation mission has integrated crew on it," Lueders said, referring to Russian cosmonauts flying aboard Starliner. 

Crew-6's integrated crew includes Russian Andrey Fedeyev along with the first long-duration United Arab Emirates (UAE) astronaut flyer, Sultan Al Neyadi. (Al Neyadi's mission arose through a complex NASA-Russian seat swap also involving the UAE and a private U.S. entity, Axiom Space, that flies commercial astronaut missions.)

The Russian assignments for Crew-7 and Crew-8 are tentative at this time, but Roscosmos announced March 1 on Telegram that it plans to add two unflown cosmonauts to the manifest: Konstantin Borisov to Crew-7 and Alexander Grebyonkin to Crew-8. Crew-7 should fly in the fall and Crew-8 in the first part of 2024, if schedules hold. 

This story was corrected March 8 regarding Crew-6 information.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: