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Russia’s talk of leaving the ISS makes so much more sense now

Published Apr 20th, 2021 8:14PM EDT
russia iss departure
Image: NASA

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NASA may have been a bit blindsided this week when its partner, Russia’s Roscosmos, revealed that it was going to decide whether or not it wanted to leave the ISS permanently. The space station has been co-operated by both the United States and Russia for a long time and has hosted astronauts from many different nations. Now, it seems Russia is having second thoughts and it’s blaming the space station’s age and lack of functionality as reasons it might depart.

At the time, it didn’t make a ton of sense. The ISS has been a big deal for Russia for a long time and it’s one of the few areas where the United States and Russia have a cooperative agreement that, at least from outside appearances, works quite well. Political blustering aside, there seemed to be little reason why either country would want to set sail, but a post on Telegram by Roscosmos boss Dmitry Rogozin helps make things quite a bit clearer. If Russia does decide to leave the ISS, it will almost certainly be doing so in favor of its own space station.

As AP reports, a Telegram post by Rogozin appeared shortly after news broke that the country was considering pulling out of the International Space Station. The message was simple, with the Russian space boss stating that the “first core module of the new Russian orbital station is in the works.” Rogozin also noted that Energia, the Russian state-owned aerospace corporation, is working on the project and that it should be ready to launch by 2025. The posts included a video of Energia workers doing their thing.

Russia has already agreed to work with NASA on the International Space Station through 2024. Beyond that, another agreement would have to be reached in order for the cooperation to continue. NASA has long been of the opinion that it will continue to work on the ISS until it makes sense to stop. Russia appears to be arguing that that limit will be reached shortly, and that the space station may ultimately be too old and/or unsafe for it to feel comfortable sending its astronauts there.

If that does indeed happen, and Russia pulls out of the ISS in 2025, it will be interesting to see what NASA decides to do. Russia is obviously working on its own space station that it will begin constructing in space in 2025 but NASA has no such plans. The U.S. space agency wants to send humans to the Moon within the next four years (or so) and is working on the Artemis program that will see the construction of a lunar gateway to act as a jumping-off point for missions to and from the lunar surface. That’s all great, but none of those plans would fill a hole that an abandoned ISS would leave.

It may be a while before we see what Russia’s decision ultimately is, but Russia’s chatter this week will undoubtedly have caught NASA’s attention.