Russia says it will leave the International Space Station after 2024

As the race to the moon receded, American and Soviet astronauts met and shook hands in space for the first time in 1975. The United Stat...


As the race to the moon receded, American and Soviet astronauts met and shook hands in space for the first time in 1975. The United States and Russia continued to work together in the moonlight. outer space, looking beyond their hostilities on Earth, culminating in the 1990s with the two nations jointly building and operating a laboratory in space.

The future of this cooperation became uncertain on Tuesday when the new head of the Russian space agency announced that Russia would leave the International Space Station after its current commitment expires at the end of 2024.

“The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made,” said Yuri Borisov, who was appointed this month to lead Roscosmos, a state-controlled company in charge of the country’s space program.

Mr. Putin’s response: “Good.”

As tensions between Washington and Moscow rose after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Russian space officials including Dmitry Rogozin, Mr Borisov’s predecessor, had said in recent months that Russia planned to leave . But they all left ambiguity as to when it would happen or if a final decision had been made.

If Russia follows through, it could hasten the end of a project that NASA has spent around $100 billion on over the past quarter-century and spark a scramble over what to do next. The space station, a partnership with Russia that also involves Canada, Europe and Japan, is key to studying the effects of weightlessness and radiation on human health – research still unfinished but needed before astronauts embark on longer journeys to Mars. It has also become a testing ground for commercial use of space, including visits from wealthy individuals and the manufacture of high-purity optical fibers.

A White House official said the United States has not received any official notification from Russia that it will withdraw from the space station, although officials have seen public comments.

“We are exploring options to mitigate any potential impact on the ISS beyond 2024 if, in fact, Russia withdraws,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a Tuesday briefing that “I understand that we were taken by surprise by the public statement that was released,” and added that the announcement of Russia was “an unfortunate development”.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement on Tuesday that “NASA is committed to the safe operation of the International Space Station through 2030.” The “after” in “after 2024”, in Mr Borisov’s words, gives Russia leeway to expand its participation beyond its current commitment.

“It could be bluster from the Russians,” said Phil Larson, White House space adviser during the Obama administration. “It could be revisited, or it could come to fruition.”

But experts say the announcement dims the prospect of keeping the station going until the end of the decade.

“The withdrawal will take time,” said Pavel Luzin, a Russian military and space analyst. “Most likely, we have to interpret this as Russia’s refusal to extend the operation of the station until 2030.”

Speaking from orbit at a space station research conference, Kjell Lindgren, one of NASA’s astronauts on the ISS, said nothing had changed up there yet.

“This is very recent news,” he said, “and so we haven’t heard anything officially. Of course, you know, we were trained to do a mission here, and this mission is one that requires the whole crew.

For nearly half a century, beginning with a 1975 meeting of American and Soviet astronauts in orbit during the Apollo-Soyuz mission, cooperation in space has been seen as a way to build positive relations between the two countries, even when diplomatic tensions remained. The decades of space collaboration have gone through many ups and downs in US-Russia relations.

From 1995 to 1998, NASA space shuttles docked with Russia’s Mir space station, and American astronauts lived on Mir.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton recast efforts to build Freedom, a space station proposed by President Ronald Reagan a decade earlier, as the International Space Station, and Russia was added as one of the main participants. .

The decision was a symbol of post cold war cooperation between the world’s two space superpowers, which battled to launch rockets and astronauts into orbit during the tense stages of their global competition and then engaged in the moon race that led to the Apollo landings in the years 1960s and 1970s. But American policymakers in the 1990s also cold-calculated that building the space station would provide work for Russian rocket engineers who would otherwise have sold their considerable expertise to countries seeking to build missiles, such as the North Korea.

The first module of the station was launched in 1998, and astronauts have lived there since 2000. Russian and American crewmates flew together in Soyuz capsules and space shuttles for orbital trips from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and Kennedy Space Center. They shared meals and vacations, collaborated on the repair and upkeep of the station, and discussed the politics that agitated their nations on the surface.

NASA officials, who want to extend space station operations through 2030, have expressed confidence that Russia will stay, despite recent shifts in broader political relations.

However, this month NASA sharply criticized Russia after Roscosmos distributed photographs of the three russian astronauts on the space station holding the flags of Russian-backed separatists in two provinces of Ukraine.

How long the station will operate without Russian involvement is uncertain. The orbiting outpost consists of two sections, one run by NASA, the other by Russia. The two are interconnected. Much of the power on the Russian side comes from NASA solar panels, while the Russians provide propulsion to periodically raise the orbit.

It is conceivable that Russia is willing to sell its half of the station to NASA or a private company. NASA is also examining whether an American spacecraft could take over some of the space station orbit raising tasks. But because of the location of NASA’s docking ports, American vehicles would be less suited to adjusting the orientation of the space station.

Russia has plans for its own space station, but Roscosmos has lacked the money to do so for years. After the retirement of US space shuttles in 2011, NASA had to buy seats on Soyuz rockets, providing a steady stream of cash for the Russians. That revenue dried up after SpaceX began transporting NASA astronauts two years ago. Russia lost additional sources of income following economic sanctions that prevented European companies and other nations from launching satellites on its rockets.

“Without cooperation with the West, the Russian space program is impossible in all its parts, including the military part,” Dr. Luzin said.

Russia is also seeking more cooperation with the Chinese space program, which has launched a Sunday laboratory module to add to its space station, Tiangong. But Tiangong is not in an orbit accessible from Russian launch pads, and many discussions between the two countries have centered on cooperate in lunar exploration.

“The prospect of cooperating with China is a fiction,” Dr. Luzin said. “The Chinese considered Russia as a potential partner until 2012 and have since stopped. Today, Russia cannot offer China anything in terms of space.

Not so long ago, it was the United States that wanted to end the International Space Station after 2024.

In 2018, the Trump administration proposed end federal funding for the space station, hoping to move its astronauts to commercial stations. That initiative died out a year later, when NASA focused on accelerating plans to return astronauts to the moon.

NASA always tries to revive a market for future commercial space stations. In December, it awarded contracts worth a total of $415.6 million to three companies – Blue Origin of Kent, Wash.; Houston Nanoracks; and Northrop Grumman of Dulles, Virginia – to develop their designs.

Paul Martin, the NASA Inspector General, however, has warned that even if the International Space Station continues until 2030, commercial follow-ups may not be ready in time, and there may be a gap where NASA does not have a laboratory in orbit to conduct research, especially on the long-term health and radiation effects of weightlessness on astronauts.

If Russia’s decision leads to the abandonment of the ISS, then China could own the only space station in orbit. China has offered to fly astronauts from other countries to Tiangong. European Space Agency astronauts have already trained with Chinese astronauts. In general, NASA is prohibited from working directly with China.

The new commotion could also highlight another unresolved problem: how to safely dispose of something the size of a football field and weighing almost a million pounds. In a report published in January, NASA has been discussing a plan to push the station into the atmosphere so that anything that survives re-entry will splash up in the Pacific Ocean. The detailed logistics remain to be defined.

Pierre Boulanger and Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Russia says it will leave the International Space Station after 2024
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