Why Russia Leaving the ISS is Not Good News

Russia Leaving the ISS is Bad News

International Space Station image: NASA

On July 26th, 2022, Russia announced it will be leaving the International Space Station after it fulfilled all previous commitments in 2024.

Given all the sanctions from the West over the Ukrainian invasion, this is not surprising. However, this is not good news either.

Can we have an International Space Station without Russia?

Of course, we can. NASA plans to stay on the ISS until at least 2030. But without Russia, it would be very difficult.

Similarly, it will be less international.

What do we need Russia for? many would ask. Did they forget Russian is the language of space for a reason? How do they think we send astronauts to space? We stopped flying space shuttles in 2011.

USA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Image: NASA

Not only do we rely on Soyuz to transport our astronauts, but the ISS relies on Russian rockets for propulsion too.

Also, if Russia leaves, it would mean only one bathroom left for the astronauts to use. (I know, space travel problems).

More realistically, without involvement with the ISS, Russia will have less motivation to monitor asteroids and space debris.

Roscosmos director, Yuri Borisov, stated Russia will continue to cooperate and fly our astronauts, and the next mission is set for March 30th, 2023, and will return US astronaut Mark Vande Hei (who incidentally has the US space record for longest spaceflight at 355 days).

But what if the Ukrainian war expands and turns into a world war? Or worse, a nuclear war? What if Putin changes his mind and decides to not return our astronauts?

Because is not like NASA or the ESA can send a shuttle to pick them up.

The Soyuz-Apollo Handshake

Apollo-Soyuz handshake image: Pinterest

If you think the current geopolitical situation is bad, imagine the USA-Soviet Union rivalry during the Cold War. On more than one occasion we were close to a nuclear winter.

Furthermore, the so-called Space Race was nothing but propaganda used by both sides to support their ideologies. Although it ultimately benefited us.

Somehow, the USA and the Soviet Union were able to put their differences aside and bring one of the coolest moments ever in history. Watch the footage here.

On July 17th, 1975, a Soyuz and an Apollo capsule met in space and docked.

Millions of people around the world watched as the Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov and the US-American astronaut Thomas Stafford shook hands in space.

the history-making handshake in space. Image: NASA

A shared meal, a joined experiment, and a shot of vodka later, it was like the Cold War never happened and a sign both nations could cooperate in the future.

That future of cooperation began when in 1998 Russia launched the first module of what would become the ISS. The USA, ESA, Canada (and its super cool robot Dextre), and Japan will continue working together.

It is so ironic one July 47 years ago we could cooperate and be friends, and this July we chose not to.

I thought space exploration could bring us together and give us a common purpose. That space could not be politicized. I was wrong.

So, what is next for both nations and the ISS? Furthermore, what is next for space exploration and science?

Is This the End of International Cooperation in Space?

Dextre, the ISS space robot. Image: Canadian Space Station

In the near future, both nations will continue cooperating as a matter of mutual interest. After all, the ISS is designed in such a way that the NASA side could not function without the Roscosmos side.

Besides, Putin could always be replaced by a more Western-friendly leader seeking to fix what he destroyed.

Furthermore, even without Russia, NASA, Canada, Japan, and Europe are capable enough to create a shuttle and a rocket propulsion system for the ISS by 2024.

And they can always invite other nations with space ambitions like India, Israel, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Singapore, and Turkey. Why not?

Rumor is Russia will form an alliance with China for space exploration. If those two could put their differences aside and join forces, watch out. China has the money and engineering. Russia has the experience and vehicles.

This is not the future I envisioned when I spoke about a new space age.

SpaceX Axiom Ax-1

Nevertheless, if Russia wants to leave, it is its choice. Let them. But we should not stop exploring.

And I don’t think privatizing space is the way forward either. Although the Axiom Space Ax-1 mission had a promising start.

My romantic space enthusiast self hopes it does not take 47 years before the Yankees and the Russians cooperate in space again. In the meantime, we must continue exploring. Otherwise, we will be left behind by the Russians and the Chinese.

And in fairness, NASA and its partners deserve better. And although I am not a gringo, I would hate for the United States to play catch up to those two for the next decades. Thus, we must explore.

Reader, do you think are we heading into a competitive space race among several nations? Or do you see a possibility of further Russian-US cooperation?

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February 2023