The International Space Station has its name for a reason. The orbiting laboratory has hosted astronauts from all over the globe during its many years in operation. As new hardware has been installed on the spacecraft, its capabilities have grown, and a great deal of science is carried out there. Over the years, the two main partners that keep the space station going are the United States (NASA) and Russia (Roscosmos). Now, one of those partners is weighing the heavy decision to back out. Hint: It’s not NASA.
As Russia’s TASS news agency reports, Russian officials have decided that it’s time for the country to decide on a pull-out of the International Space Station. The decision will reportedly be made after a technical inspection and survey of the spacecraft itself, some number crunching, and a risk assessment. Simply put, Russia no longer believes the space station is suitable for long-term research efforts, and as of 2025, it may no longer feel comfortable sending its scientists there.
There seems to be at least a little bit of information getting lost in translation from the original Russian reports and what is being reported on some news sites. Some outlets are saying that Russia has already decided on leaving the station while others quote Russian officials as saying that they’re still weighing the decision. Whatever the case, it’s clear that Russia is no longer “all in” on the ISS and it blames that feeling on the technical status of the spacecraft itself.
Russia has conducted risk assessments for the spacecraft in the recent past and some of the country’s top specialists have predicted the “failure of numerous elements on board the ISS” after the year 2025. The country has already agreed to cooperate with NASA and its other partners on the ISS project through at least 2024, at which point it may decide that enough is enough.
A statement from Roscosmos doesn’t offer much assurance either way:
“We have 2024 as an agreed time limit with our partners on the work of the ISS. After that, decisions will be made based on the technical condition of the station’s modules, which have mostly worn out their service life, as well as our plans to deploy a next-generation national orbital service station.”
It would be interesting to see what NASA would do if their main ISS partner decides to back out of the program in 2025. The spacecraft has spent over two decades in space, gradually growing as NASA and Russia expanded it, added more scientific equipment, and tested various modules for usability. Many new discoveries have been made during its time in space, but nobody would argue that it’s the most modern machine orbiting Earth. Leaks have popped up repeatedly, especially on the Russian side of the spacecraft. Eventually, it’ll need to be totally replaced, but nobody really knows when that will happen. For the time being, it’s still the go-to for scientists needing to work in microgravity.