Just very curious. There are three seats in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and sometimes just one astronaut of the three is a Russian and the other two are either one American and someone from yet another country, or another Russian and one American. Of course one reason is that since the end of the Space Shuttle flights there was a contract that Russia would send one American in their spacecraft to the ISS. The contract was to get expired in 2019 but obviously was prolonged (probably because the Dragon spacecraft once was planned to launch with crew already in 2014). However Russia already sent non-Russians long before 2011 to the ISS. The last Soyuz mission with only Russians was Soyuz TM-30, the last manned flight to Mir, in the year 2000. Why didn't Roscosmos launch any spacecraft with only Russians on board from then on?

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    $\begingroup$ It's because they aren't the ones paying for the rocket launch. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 13:03

3 Answers 3


As of 24 April 2020, the Russians & Chinese are the only ones capable of sending people into orbit. The Chinese crewed space program is still in its early stages & only sends Chinese people into space.

People from other countries would like to go to space & the International Space Station is funded by a number of countries, including Russia. The only way to get people from those countries to the ISS is via Russian launch systems. So far the Russians don't mind receiving money for providing a taxi service to & from the ISS & this is why there are non-Russians using Soyuz.

Also being International, it would not be considered good form if the crew of the ISS was from just one country, a balance needs to be maintained.

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    $\begingroup$ But what about before the shuttle stopped launching? The question says that Soyuz launches since 2000 always had at least one non-Russian. Why is that? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Speedphoenix: Because Russia can meet their spaceflight and scientific objectives with just two cosmonauts. Selling the third seat makes a profit for the program. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ @user30007 but they don’t have any, so can’t. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ @user30007 yes. In exchange for money. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ @user30007 : because paying those millions is still cheaper than operating their own spacecraft. If Russia refused to ferry them, then they would already have developed another spacecraft. They could do it 60 years ago, so they could do it now. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 20:09

This is somewhat adding on to @geoffc's answer

The ISS is a joint project between NASA, Roscosmos, and other agencies.
As geoffc mentioned, both NASA and Roscosmos want to always have at least one Russian cosmonaut and one Astronaut from the US on board at all times.

The problem with the space shuttle was that it could only stay docked to the ISS for 12 days (it was initially 6-8 days because its fuel cells had limited capacity, and they were able to take that up to 12 days by channeling power from the ISS using Shuttle Power Transfer System (SSPTS), though the longest flight lasted 17.5 days on STS 80, which was not a mission to the ISS), while the Soyuz can stay docked to the ISS for more than 6 months.

This means that if Soyuz capsules launched with only Russian cosmonauts on board, the ISS might not have had any American astronauts on board until the next shuttle came by, and then again 15 days later when the shuttle left again with all the American astronauts.

Of course to solve this the shuttle would swap some astronauts to keep a rotating crew, and the shuttle would leave the ISS with different astronauts than it came with, but this wasn't always the case, and after the Columbia disaster the shuttle would rotate only one astronaut.

The Soyuz was still somewhat necessary to keep a permanent crew on board the ISS.

  • $\begingroup$ As a matter of fact, why couldn't the Shuttle remain docked for as long as the Soyuz craft? $\endgroup$
    – user35272
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @user30007 space.stackexchange.com/a/21757/29286 It initially could stay docked for 6-8 days because its fuel cells had limited capacity, and they were able to take that up to 12 days by channeling power from the ISS using Shuttle Power Transfer System (SSPTS) I edited the answer to include this $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @user30007 Soyuz gets power from Solar. Shuttle gets power from Fuel cell. So when they run out of LH2 and LOX they are out of power. Soyuz endurance is limited by how long the propellants can be stored before the seals on the tanks will degrade. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 17:14

The Soyuz vehicle requires a custom seat liner to be make the impact of landing safer.

Soyuz capsules return to Earth via a parachute to a land based landing, uses solid rockets that fire in the last few seconds to dump the last of the velocity.

This is not the most comfortable of all possible landing methodologies and the custom seat liners are designed to make takeoff and landing more comfortable and safer.

Thus if you intend to launch or land in a Soyuz you need the seat liner.

During the Shuttle era, if an astronaut/cosmonaut launched or landed across vehicles, they have to bring the liner with them. (Mostly this meant Shuttle launched people brought the liner for later use in landing in the Soyuz).

In terms of crew, the minimum crew is usually 3 (occasionally was 2 during problematic times) and the US and Russia want to have a crew member on board at all times.

The maximum crew was 6, two Soyuz full loads, until the US gets Commercial crew launching when it will be 7 (3 on Soyuz, 4 on US vehicles). Thus any particular crew of a Soyuz will consist of at least on American, one Russian, and then who ever makes sense to fill the spot.

If they launched an all US Soyuz or all Russian Soyuz, when crew changes occur you would have a circumstance with only one nationality represented until the next crew launched.

This could be resolved by launching a third crew, before the other crew departs but has not really been done on ISS much, though it was done more on Mir. (I quibble since occasionally they will launch a Soyuz with a crew for a week or so, who then return in an old Soyuz, for long duration missions that exceed the in-space lifespan of a Soyuz vehicle).

  • $\begingroup$ The first half of your answer isn't addressing the question why the third seat isn't used by a Russian anymore. And while the U.S. have no active orbital spaceship as yet, Russia sent non-Russian cosmonauts before the end of the Shuttle flights too. And the deal was for until 2019 but obviously got prolonged. As from the other answer and the comments, the simple answer seems to be money. $\endgroup$
    – user35272
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @user30007 So first half does not address, but does the second half? $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 15:17
  • $\begingroup$ Don't you see that yourself? And I addressed the 2nd half in my above comment. But your answer is good. $\endgroup$
    – user35272
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 16:14

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