The success of Saturday's SpaceX Crew Dragon means that, for the first time since 2011, NASA may no longer need to rely on Russia's Soyuz to bring astronauts to the International Space Station.
The vehicle, which was scheduled to undock on Friday, March 8, and splash down to the Atlantic Ocean, is a triumph for both SpaceX and NASA, heralding the dawn of a new space age. However, the Russians do not seem to feel the same way.
Roscosmos Reaction To Crew Dragon Launch
While Roscosmos has been mostly diplomatic, the space corporation has been throwing shades here and there. On Sunday, while the current crew of the ISS awaited for the Crew Dragon to dock, Roscosmos pulled cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko in the Russian side of the orbiting outpost.
The move, according to TASS (a Russian news agency), is to ensure that Kononenko is able to take action in case the Crew Dragon goes berserk and crashes into the space station.
When the SpaceX vehicle docked without issues, Roscosmos tweeted a congratulatory message to NASA in Russian. However, Ars Technica noted that the tweet emphasized "that flight safety must be above reproach."
An hour later, the official account of the space corporation tweeted in English, congratulating colleagues at NASA but without the flight safety comment.
Neither tweet had any mention of Elon Musk's SpaceX.
Roscosmos also tweeted about the mission, which they acknowledged made history — but for a different reason. On a post on Monday, the space corporation posted photos of NASA astronaut Anne McClain, CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques, and Kononenko wearing a protective mask before entering the Crew Dragon. The tweet noted that the crew is using Russian-made IPK gas masks for the first time in the history of the space station.
Reports out of Russia mentioned an unusual smell and elevated levels of isopropyl alcohol in the ISS after the Crew Dragon docked. The truth is, the concentration was not a threat and was immediately gone after the air was cycled.
What The Crew Dragon Success Means For Russia
Russia has been critical of SpaceX before, and according to an expert, they have reason to feel threatened. Vadim Lukashevich, in an interview on Monday, explained that the success of the Crew Dragon launch this weekend "made Roscosmos null and void."
"Look, if we compare the ships on a technological level, our Soyuz is in principle unable to compete with the SpaceX's Crew Dragon," he stated (as translated by Ars Technica). "This is because our Soyuz was ideologically built in the 1960s by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. Even having undergone a lot of modification, it is still flying to this day. It is reliable and its bugs have all been worked out. But it has become an unreliable ship in principle."
Lukashevich also pointed out that the Russian side of the ISS never gave their approval for the docking.
The Crew Dragon deal meant that Roscosmos will be losing about $400 million a year for ferrying astronauts to the ISS via the Soyuz. A number of Soyuz flights to the ISS are still scheduled to take place this year and in 2020.