Russia Says It Will Leave the International Space Station After 2024

The United States and Russia jointly built and now operate the station

International Space Station
This mosaic depicts the International Space Station as pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour in November 2021. NASA Johnson

In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, the new head of Russia’s space agency said that Russia would leave the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024. The United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan work together to operate the ISS, and it’s unclear what Russia’s announcement means for the future of the station, which NASA wants to continue to use through 2030, writes the New York Times’ Kenneth Chang and Ivan Nechepurenko.

Russian officials have previously discussed leaving the station. In response to economic restrictions against Russia following their invasion of Ukraine, the previous head of Russia’s space agency said they would not be able to discuss future involvement in the project, per the Washington Post’s Mary Ilyushina and Christian Davenport.

Jordan Bimm, a historian of science at the University of Chicago, tells Vladimir Isachenkov and Marcia Dunn of the Associated Press (AP) that the announcement does not bode well for the future of the ISS. “It creates a constellation of uncertainties about maintaining the station which don’t have easy answers,” he says.

Following the Cold War and the space race of the 1960s and 1970s, the ISS was seen as a symbol of international cooperation, writes the Times. Astronauts have lived aboard the station since 2000. NASA and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, each manage one of the two main segments of the station, writes William Harwood for CBS News. The Russian side keeps the station in orbit.

Bimm tells the AP that whether the Russian cosmonauts will simply return to Earth or make the Russian-built modules inoperable is unclear. Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, who was aboard the ISS for 340 consecutive days between 2015 and 2016, tells the AP that it would be difficult but not impossible for the other countries to manage the ISS without Russia. Russia could potentially sell its half of the station to NASA or a private company, writes the Times.

The head of Roscosmos also said Tuesday that Russia plans on building its own station. But according to the Post, the agency is struggling financially and lost a source of funds when the U.S. astronauts started taking SpaceX rockets to the ISS instead of Russian rockets.

The AP wrote that Russia could be using the announcement to pressure other countries to drop economic sanctions against it. “This could be bluster from the Russians,” Phil Larson, a White House space adviser during the Obama administration, tells the Times. “It could be revisited, or it could come to fruition.”

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