Russia faces east after emerging from the International Space Station


The International Space Station, the world’s largest collaborator in science and engineering, has been a global meeting place for astronauts for two decades.

This month alone, a Russian Soyuz rocket carried an American astronaut and two Russian astronauts into a laboratory orbiting 420 kilometers from the Earth’s surface on April 9. Eight days later, another Soyuz rocket carried three Russian-American trio to Earth – and on Friday, weather permitting, SpaceX will transport two more, a Japanese and a French, to the 23-year-old station.

These are the differences going and coming backHowever, the end is coming. Russia announced this week that it will withdraw $ 150 billion from the International Space Station by 2025, as it approaches a major period of international cooperation, coming from its plan for the perestroika period at the end of the Cold War.

Despite increasing tensions between Russia and the United States over the past decade, space agencies in the two countries continue to work closely with their European, Japanese and Canadian counterparts. According to NASA, 243 people from 19 countries have used the International Space Station since 2000.

“In the early days the Russian and American astronauts had very different ways of working, so despite some problems we reached the level of operational maturity, so in terms of team dynamics, I only heard positive things about the astronauts. Astronauts work together, ”British national astronaut: said Professor Anu Oja, Academic Director and Adviser to the European Space Agency.

In the early years of creating and assembling ISS units in space since 1998, the Russians and their Western allies relied on one another. “Without Russian expertise, NASA and ISA could not have built the space station,” Oga said. “The Russians were masters of building a modular space station.”

Thirteen people on board the space station in 2010 – the largest crew on the International Space Station ever © NASA

For the Western teams, for their part, the materials and people are the International Space Station. This dependence increased when NASA retired from the space shuttle in 2011, leaving Soyuz as the only passenger vehicle available to put astronauts into orbit – adding to Russia’s pride when NASA began using the Elon Musk SpaceX system last year.

According to Roscosmos, cooperation with the International Space Station represents much-needed access to Western financing. NASA spent $ 3.9 billion on the Soyuz spacecraft to transport astronauts to the International Space Station between 2011 and 2019 after the spacecraft was retired, according to the agency’s Inspector General Paul Martin.

While astronaut Mark Vandy Hay’s flight this month may not be the last for an American aboard a Russian rocket, most non-Russian astronauts will travel aboard SpaceX or Boeing’s delayed Starliner rocket, which is expected to enter service next year.

For Russia, the decision to end its involvement with the International Space Station is expected to lead to further space cooperation with China – part of a broader Kremlin axis toward Beijing.

Russia has doubled its efforts to strengthen ties with China since Western sanctions were first imposed on Moscow in response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, cutting off some financial and trade routes. Countries have concluded security agreements and energy relations, while bilateral trade has nearly doubled since 2010, reaching $ 110 billion in 2019.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated as relations between Washington, based on the personal chemistry between the two powerful leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, deteriorated.

Astronaut James H. Newman during a 1998 space flight
Astronaut James H. Newman during a 1998 space flight © NASA / Getty

Thorny rhetoric has escalated from Moscow and Washington in recent years, accusing each other of trying to militarize space. The United States accused Russia of launching a missile from one of its satellites last July, while Moscow said that the United States “considers the site a public military arena.”

And the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) rejected an offer from the United States last year to join the NASA-led Artemis program, which aims to establish a permanent human presence on the surface of the Moon. In March, Russia and China agreed to jointly build a lunar base “to promote the peaceful exploration and use of space for all humanity” under the memorandum of understanding.

The Russian Space Agency also aims to launch its orbital space station by 2030 on Wednesday, tentatively with the International Space Station.

Some structures of the International Space Station show their age. “Maturity is a good way to say it,” Oga said. “The integration of hardware architecture with modern notebook computers and software in the late 1990s presents interesting challenges.”

For the first fifteen years, the team at the International Space Station focused on assembly and engineering – that is, science relegates its progress in the context of microgravity.

NASA astronaut Kate Robins, who returned to Earth last week, told a news conference on Wednesday about the hundreds of hours he spent in orbit, from studying DNA at the space station to biological experiments on human heart tissue and vegetables. “The radish was delicious,” he said. “We gave them five star reviews.”

The most important part of the research on the International Space Station is the effort to understand the long-term effects of space travel on human health, and to prepare for attempts to migrate to the moon or travel to Mars.

British astronaut Tim Beck runs on a treadmill on the International Space Station in 2016
British astronaut Tim Peck participated in the London Marathon when he built the Walker on the International Space Station in 2016 © AP

The future of the International Space Station has yet to be negotiated after the current partnership agreements expire at the end of 2024. “From a technical point of view, we have allowed the International Space Station to fly until the end of 2028,” NASA told the Financial Times. “Our analysis does not identify any problem that prevents an extension beyond 2028 if necessary,” he said, adding that the power and communication systems need upgrades.

Ultimately, however, the 440-ton International Space Station will reach the end of its useful life and be returned to Earth. “Getting rid of it is not a simple matter,” British astronomer Royal Martin Rees said. You must land in an uninhabited area in the South Pacific.

Until then, it will continue to operate astronauts while orbiting the Earth, but an era is already approaching.


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