Amidst Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, tensions between the Western world and the invaders have ramped up. With the US and a number of other countries imposing economic sanctions on Russia, the relationship between NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos has also been called into question. However, it looks like the two agencies are planning on continuing to work together, at least for the time being.
This is evidenced by the fact that the US will be bringing at least one more cosmonaut up to the International Space Station on the SpaceX Crew Dragon shuttle in September. The swap will see cosmonaut Anna Kikina sent up by NASA while American astronaut Frank Rubio will head up in a Soyuz spacecraft. However, Roscosmos will still need to get approval from several government higher-ups before this exchange is confirmed. For his part, ISS program manager Joel Montalbano has expressed his hopes that the September exchange will still take place.
In March, American NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei rode back from the ISS with cosmonauts, so relationships are at least amicable at this point. Reports aboard the ISS have also mentioned that things have been a bit awkward, but overall it’s business as usual. There is likely plenty to keep the astronauts and cosmonauts busy up there and international tensions probably don’t come up in conversation too often.
It will be interesting to see if the deal between Russia and the other countries on the International Space Station stays intact. The ISS is a shared space station, so Russia can take advantage of the facilities just like any other country that is signed on. However, there have been rumblings of Russia leaving the program, as the Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin has threatened to pull Russia out and have their cosmonauts leave the International Space Station. Dmitry Rogozin is likely making these threats due to the economic sanctions that the US has placed on Russia in response to the Ukrainian invasion. It’s worth noting that Russia is supposed to be a part of the program until 2024. Pulling out now would take away some of their space capabilities two years early. Not to mention the fact that Russia would likely sign on for more years under normal circumstances. In either case, NASA is replacing the International Space Station by 2030, so it remains to be seen if Russia will still be involved at that point.
For now, the threats to remove cosmonauts from the ISS remain empty. Russia would definitely be sacrificing a useful resource if they decided to pull out early. Also, it’s not likely that the US will be lifting its sanctions anytime soon. NASA is committed to maintaining the relationship, so it’ll likely be Russia who cuts ties. Of course, if Russia pulls out of Ukraine, this will likely all be resolved. That seems like an unlikely outcome at this point, but it’s the outcome that most of the world is hoping for at this point. Stay tuned for more news on the ISS.