NASA astronaut Kate Rubins boarded a Russian Soyuz rocket for the fastest ever trip to the International Space Station on Wednesday, her 42nd birthday, which also marked what NBC News calls "the end of an era." It was the last time NASA paid for one of its astronauts to fly with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, before the US program begins launching astronauts to the ISS in the new SpaceX Crew Dragon. NASA and Roscosmos have successfully collaborated for years, but "this partnership was the product of a different era in US-Russia relations," per NBC. Today, there's a lot of tension between the two countries. Indeed, NASA's reliance on Roscosmos came under scrutiny in 2014 following Russia's annexation of Crimea. Then-Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin responded to resulting US sanctions by threatening to block NASA's access to ISS.
That propelled development of new spacecraft like the Crew Dragon, scheduled to fly three US astronauts and a Japanese astronaut to ISS in November, and Boeing's design, scheduled to fly in 2021. NASA hopes to welcome Roscosmos astronauts aboard in the future, but that's unlikely to happen in the next year. The astronauts arriving in November will join Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived for a six-month stay on ISS on Wednesday after a two-orbit flight that took just three hours and seven minutes—half the usual time, per the AP. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner will leave the station using the docked Soyuz capsule on Oct. 21, just before the 20th anniversary of a continuous human presence on ISS on Nov. 1, per CNN. (Read more space stories.)