Despite a tense political relationship between the U.S. and Russia, American astronauts like Barry Wilmore are still riding Russian rockets into space. The Tennessee Tech alumnus and Mt. Juliet native is in his final weeks of preparation at a cosmonaut training center in Moscow before he launches up to the International Space Station, where he’ll be taking command later this year.
One former NASA official recently said he was worried that the tensions between the U.S. and Russia might hinder their spaceflight collaboration, but Barry Wilmore says he hasn’t noticed any changes.
“Certainly, I watch the news. I’m aware of what’s been going on globally in the world, but day-to-day, our relationship with our partners in the International Space Station program … it’s not been affected whatsoever,” he says. “If I did not listen to the news, I would not know that there are any political tensions at all, because our working relationship remains to be very strong.”
Wilmore and two Russian cosmonauts — Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova — have been preparing for their time on the International Space Station for two years, and he says they’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. They’ve been over to his house, he says, and sometimes socialize outside of work. They’ll be spending six months together in space.
It’s not Wilmore’s first time at the ISS, but it is the longest. The Navy veteran was part of an 11-day space shuttle mission to the space station in 2009.
For more on Wilmore’s background and the space mission, read his preflight interview with NASA.