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ISS crew hug, take selfie to say ‘No' to politics and Ukraine tension in space

Published time: May 27, 2014 18:07
Edited time: May 27, 2014 18:58
International Space Station crew members (L-R) Alexander Gerst of Germany, Maxim Surayev of Russia and Reid Wiseman of the U.S. hug one another at a news conference behind a glass wall at Baikonur cosmodrome May 27, 2014 (Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov)

International Space Station crew members (L-R) Alexander Gerst of Germany, Maxim Surayev of Russia and Reid Wiseman of the U.S. hug one another at a news conference behind a glass wall at Baikonur cosmodrome May 27, 2014 (Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov)

Political tension may be running high, but let's get real – friends will be friends, especially if they have a common cause for the whole of humanity. This was the message of a Russian-US-German crew of astronauts in the run-up to a joint trip to space.

A Russian, an American, and a German space traveler gathered Tuesday for a joint press conference in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. And no – this is not the beginning of another joke on nationalities, but the actual crew list of the 40th International Space Station (ISS) astronauts, who are due to be launched into space on May 28.

While space has long remained politics-free, NASA’s Reid Wiseman, ESA’s Alexander Gerst, and commander Maksim Suraev of Russia’s Roscosmos could not escape questions on how their personal relations have been affected by the tensions between the world powers on Ukraine, which have already endangered US-Russian space cooperation.

“Because of the events in Ukraine that we all know about, the relationship between the United States, Russia and Germany became pretty tense. Do you feel this tension on the level of your team?” a journalist from Russian TV channel NTV asked the crew of three.

Instead of going into detail, the three astronauts stood up and hugged each other.

“This is our answer,” astronaut Wiseman said in Russian.

“Yes, this is our answer for everyone to see,” cosmonaut Suraev added.

The commander then gathered his crew for a collective selfie, promising that they will all be tweeting from orbit.

Gerst also gave an insight on the trio’s relations, answering a question from a German journalist.

“I think it means a lot if you look at our crew as not just a team of three different guys from three different nationalities or continents – we are actually a group of friends,” Gerst said.

Not only did the three spend years training together, but they have also spent much of their free time together, including at Suraev’s dacha. Even the astronauts’ families know each other well, the German geophysicist revealed.

“Space is without borders, we fly to an international space station where we do experiments that come back to Earth and benefit all of us – they benefit all humankind,” he said.

Adding to the connection and mutual respect amongst the crew members is the fact that the Russian and the American both used to serve as Air Force pilots.

“I really wish I had met Max 500 knots at the merge, [as] he was flying a Su-27 and I was flying F-14, ‘cause that would have been a lot more fun,” Wiseman said jokingly.

The crew is scheduled to blast off to space in a Soyuz TMA-13M rocket on Wednesday and will take part in ISS Expedition 40/41. They will spend some six months in orbit, returning back to Earth in November.

The trio’s backup crew is equally international, consisting of Russia's Anton Shkaplerov, America's Terry Wirts, and Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti.