Despite the strained relations between Russia and the United States, cooperation on the space program continues almost unchanged. In addition to two Russians, a Russian rocket carried an American to the International Space Station (ISS) this week. Francisco Rubio thus became the first American astronaut to travel to the ISS on a Russian ship since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. In mid-October, the American ship Crew Dragon, on the other hand, is to deliver a Russian passenger into orbit. “The Russians are clearly aware that with their departure from the International Space Station, manned cosmonautics will end for them,” says cosmonautics expert Milan Halousek.
In the first months after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the then-director of the space agency Roskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, threatened that if the West did not lift its sanctions, it could result in the ISS crashing, as the station is powered by engines operated by a Russian crew. In the end, however, there was no escalation, and the cooperation between the American and Russian crews continues despite the political crisis that is currently taking place on Earth.
The new director of the Russian agency, Yuri Borisov, on the other hand, has now declared that Russia wants to participate in the ISS until 2028, while in July he claimed that Moscow would start withdrawing from the international project four years earlier. Roskosmos has already announced that Russia wants to build its own orbital station, but according to Milan Halousk, a member of the Czech Astronomical Society, they will not be able to do so at least until the end of the ISS operation, which is planned for 2030.
“The Russians are talking about their own station, but there’s no way they’ll even have one planned by then. What is being planned now will fly in ten years at the earliest, but in the case of Russia, I think it is unworkable, because Russia is currently in a huge economic and technological crisis. It’s just screams. They won’t even have the human resources to do it, because engineers and other experts are leaving. So it is for these reasons that they will try to stay on the International Space Station as long as possible,” says Halousek for the Echo24 daily.
He describes the current atmosphere on the ISS as “working”. But according to him, she probably won’t be particularly friendly. “There are shots of the crew having dinner together and communicating with each other, but they have to communicate with each other on a professional basis, and they probably try not to bring politics into it, although it’s probably not entirely possible. The station and the work on it are very important and significant for both sides, whether the international side, which is the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada, or for the Russians. Both do not want to lose it, and one would have a very difficult time ensuring its operation without the other.”
Halousek explains why cooperation and communication between crews is vital to the station: “Basically, the station technically cannot be completely split, and the Russians and the Americans know that, so they know that they have to work together, because the American segment provides the electricity and the Russian one provides the flight path adjustment.”