Russia has declared that from 2020, NASA astronauts will not be needed on board at the International Space Station due to the sanctions levied by the US since Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
NASA says that they had not received any official notification from Russia on changes in space cooperation. “Space cooperation has been a hallmark of US-Russia relations, during the height of the cold war, and most notably, in the past 13 consecutive years of continuous human presence on board the International Space Station,” it said.
Currently, NASA relies on Russian rockets to get its astronauts to and from space, paying them $70.7 million for each one-way ticket.
The surprising announcement won’t affect the US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts currently aboard the International Space Station, orbiting about 260 miles above Earth’s surface, or the future missions planned over the next few years.
From recent plans the station was to operate at least until 2024 but with Russia angry with the sanctions of blocking high-tech exports that helped the Russian military will no longer be seen possible if the issues are not solved by 2020.
Private American space companies are hoping to have their own transport systems in place by then so NASA could theoretically access the station on its own but Russia is claiming that its space agency, Roscosmos, would try to operate its portion of the station without NASA involvement.
“The Russian segment can exist independently from the American one. The US one cannot,” Russian deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said during the announcement.
That’s probably not true: the majority of the station’s power, among other capabilities, comes from solar panels on the American segment.
Without both countries’ involvement, it seems unlikely that the station, the only occupied outpost our species has in space can survive. And either way, it’s clear that the two countries’ space relationship, once a triumph of the post-Cold War era, is quickly going down the pipes.