The International Space Station (ISS) looked for a while like it was about to become a little less international when the Russian space agency chief suggested last year that his country would stop sending cosmonauts to the orbital outpost “after 2024.”
Roscosmos chief Yuri Borisov made the statement in July during a period of increasing tension between the U.S. and Russia following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine five months earlier.
But on Thursday NASA announced that Russia had agreed to support continued ISS operations through 2028, while other nations, among them the U.S., Japan, Canada, and the participating countries of the European Space Agency, have committed until 2030.
The agreement means that barring any major setback, the ISS will host crews until its decommissioning process, which is currently set for 2031.
“The International Space Station is an incredible partnership with a common goal to advance science and exploration,” NASA’s Robyn Gatens said. “Extending our time aboard this amazing platform allows us to reap the benefits of more than two decades of experiments and technology demonstrations, as well as continue to materialize even greater discovery to come.”
NASA’s announcement follows remarks made on Tuesday by NASA chief Bill Nelson during an event in Ottawa to highlight next year’s Artemis II lunar mission involving four astronauts, including Canadian Jeremy Hansen.
Nelson told Reuters that while “we are completely at odds with President Putin’s aggression” in Ukraine, the collaboration aboard the space station “continues in a very professional manner between astronauts and cosmonauts without a hitch. And I expect that to continue all the way through the end of the decade when they we will then de-orbit the space station.”
Besides being good news for international cooperation, Thursday’s announcement is also useful for ISS operations as it paves the way for the continued use of Russia’s Soyuz flight system for sending crew and cargo to the ISS. Without it, the station would have to rely solely on SpaceX for such missions.
Construction of the ISS started in 1998 and rotating crews began staying there in 2000. To date, the facility, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth, has been visited by 266 individuals from 20 countries.
During stays that usually last around six months, crewmembers use the unique microgravity conditions to conduct science experiments across multiple disciplines of research, including Earth and space science, biology, human physiology, physical sciences, and technology demonstrations.
But the station is starting to show its age and so is set to be decommissioned in about eight years’ time.
Private companies are, however, planning to build more modern space stations for international crews to live and work in low-Earth orbit.
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