HomeWorldRussia says it will leave the International Space Station after 2024

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 States and Russia continued to work together in outer space, looking beyond their hostilities at on Earth, culminating in the 1990s with the two nations jointly building and operating a laboratory in space.

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

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

Putin’s response: “Good.”

With tensions rising between Washington and Moscow after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Russian space officials, including Dmitry Rogozin, Borisov’s predecessor, had made statements in recent months that Russia planned to leave. But all left ambiguity about when it would happen or if a final decision had been made.

If Russia goes ahead, it could hasten the end of a project NASA has spent around $100 billion on over the past quarter-century and spark a fight 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 that is still unfinished but necessary before astronauts can embark on longer voyages to Mars. It has also become a testing ground for commercial use of space, including visits by wealthy citizens and the manufacture of high-purity optical fibers.

A White House official said the United States had not received any formal notification from Russia that it would withdraw from the space station, although officials saw the public comments.

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

Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said during a briefing Tuesday that “I understand we were caught off guard by the public statement that came out,” adding that Russia’s announcement was “an unfortunate development.”

Bill Nelson, the NASA administrator, said in a statement 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, offers room for maneuver for Russia to expand its involvement beyond its current commitment.

“This could be a bluff by the Russians,” said Phil Larson, a White House space adviser during the Obama administration. “It could be revised, or it could come to fruition.”

But experts say the announcement clouds the prospect of keeping the station running through the end of the decade.

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

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

For nearly half a century, beginning with a meeting of American and Soviet astronauts in orbit in 1975 during the Apollo-Soyuz mission, cooperation in space has been seen as a way to build positive relations between the two countries, even as diplomatic tensions they kept. . Decades of space collaboration have weathered numerous ups and downs in US-Russian relations.

From 1995 to 1998, NASA space shuttles docked at 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, adding Russia as a major player.

The decision was symbolic of the post-Cold War cooperation between the world’s two space superpowers, which competed to launch rockets and astronauts into orbit during tense stages of their global competition and then participated in the lunar race that led to the moon landings. of Apollo in the 1960s and 1970s. But American lawmakers in the 1990s also made a cold calculation that building the space station would provide jobs for Russian rocket engineers who might otherwise have sold their considerable experience to countries seeking to build missiles, such as North Korea.

The station’s first module was launched in 1998, and astronauts have lived there since 2000. Russian and American crew members flew together in Soyuz capsules and space shuttles to travel to orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and the Center Space Kennedy. They shared meals and vacations, assisted in the repair and maintenance 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, expressed confidence that Russia will remain, despite recent changes in the broader political relationship.

However, this month, NASA slammed Russia after Roscosmos distributed photos of the three Russian astronauts on the space station holding the Russian-backed separatist flags in two provinces of Ukraine.

It is not known how long the station could operate without Russian involvement. The orbiting outpost consists of two sections, one run by NASA and 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 orbit.

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

Russia has plans for its own space station, but Roscosmos has lacked the money to do so for years. After the retirement of the American space shuttles in 2011, NASA had to buy seats on the Soyuz rockets, which provided a constant flow of money to the Russians. Those revenues dried up after SpaceX began providing transportation to NASA astronauts two years ago. Russia lost additional sources of revenue as a result of economic sanctions that prevented companies from Europe and other nations from launching satellites on their rockets.

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

Russia is also seeking to cooperate more with China’s space program, which launched a laboratory module on Sunday to add to its space station, Tiangong. But Tiangong is not in an orbit that can be reached from Russia’s launch pads, and many of the talks between the two countries have focused on cooperation on lunar exploration.

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

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

In 2018, the Trump administration proposed ending federal funding for the space station, hoping to move its astronauts to commercial stations. That initiative fizzled out a year later, when NASA turned its attention to accelerating plans to send astronauts back to the moon.

NASA is still trying to push 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, Washington; 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 into 2030, commercial follow-ups might not be ready in time, and there could be a gap where NASA doesn’t have an orbiting lab to conduct research, especially on long-term effects on the health of zero gravity and radiation in 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 bring astronauts from other nations to Tiangong. Astronauts of the European Space Agency have already trained with Chinese astronauts. NASA is generally prohibited from working directly with China.

The new turmoil could also highlight another unsolved problem: how to safely dispose of something that’s the size of a football field and weighs close to a million pounds. In a report published in January, NASA discussed a plan to push the station back into the atmosphere so that anything that survived re-entry would splash out into the Pacific Ocean. The detailed logistics have not yet been resolved.

pedro baker Y Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.

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