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Sci-Tech

NASA and Russia's aborted Soyuz flight shows how far we've come

The Soyuz MS-10 mission hurtled back to Earth like a bullet but is a symbol of space cooperation.

At the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, Expedition 57 crewmembers Nick Hague of NASA (left) and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos (right) pose for pictures Sept. 17 after a crew news conference. Hague and Ovchinin will launch Oct. 11 fro

NASA astronaut Nick Hague (left) and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin shake hands before their aborted mission.

NASA

Just 50 years ago, the idea of sending a Russian and an American on a rocket into space would have been the start of a terrible knock-knock joke.

But just a few decades after the space race saw the world's biggest superpowers go head-to-head to reach the moon, all as a not-so-subtle sign of who had supremacy here on Earth, space has become the ultimate symbol of cooperation.

And nowhere is this more apparent than with the Soyuz spacecraft.

Since 2011, Soyuz has been the main spacecraft used to get crew to the International Space Station after the NASA retired its space shuttle program. It's the ultimate symbol of international cooperation. 

The most recent Soyuz MS-10 mission landed back on Earth (and back into the global consciousness) on Thursday after it was forced to abort shortly after launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The rocket was set to take Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin and US astronaut Nick Hague to space for a six-month stint on the International Space Station. But now, Hague's first-ever space flight has come to an abrupt end and the crew on the ISS have been left with a rapidly warming party platter of welcome canapés.

But while the world watched as the two men made their "ballistic descent" (a move that NASA casually said in a post-landing press conference was like being shot out of a shotgun, no big deal) I couldn't help but think about the loftier mission the two men were part of.

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In the 1960s, space exploration was about the biggest show in town. On paper, it was all about pushing humanity further. About following the famous words of John F. Kennedy and doing things "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." And the subtext under all that drive? Spend crazy moon money, beat the Soviets.

But now space is the place for international cooperation. We're no longer shooting chimps and dogs into orbit as part of some weird, zoological one-upmanship (if aliens exist, they must have been worried about us for a while there). We're sending Russians and Americans side by side on international missions designed to better the human race. 

I mean, look at these two friendzos. You just know they have an awesome collection of friendship bracelets...

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome Museum in Kazakhstan, Expedition 57 Nick Hague of NASA (left) and Alexey Ovchinin of Roscosmos (right) display “launch keys” they were presented Oct. 6 during a traditional pre-launch tour of the facility. Hague and Ovchinin wil

Hague (left) and Ovchinin display matching "launch keys" they received before takeoff. Not pictured: matching friendship bracelets.

Victor Zelentsov/NASA

Even when they're in space, astronauts and cosmonauts from all over the world cooperate for the common good. NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency (who brought us the amazing Chris Hadfield), Russia's Roscosmos and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) -- all have worked together to keep the ISS crewed and keep humans in space for almost 20 years.

If you're having a bad day, just pull up NASA TV on YouTube and watch a video of a new crew mission coming aboard the ISS. I can promise that you will immediately have something in your eye.

As we continue our missions in space, this kind of cooperation between countries, and with commercial space companies like SpaceX, will be vital. We're going back to the moon and then onward to Mars, and you better believe that's going to take a coordinated effort (you can check out more about that new mission in the video embedded above).

So yes, the latest Soyuz mission was a bit of a bust, don't think about the image of the spacecraft prematurely hurtling back to earth. Think about the two humans inside, sitting side by side. 

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