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Rotational change: Russia looks east after leaving the International Space Station


The International Space Station, the world’s largest ally of science and engineering, has been the center of international cooperation for two decades.

This month alone the Russian Soyuz rocket lifted an American ship with two Russian cosmonauts into a laboratory around 420km above the world on April 9. Eight days later another Soyuz rocket carried three American-Russians back to Earth – and on Friday, weather permitting, the US company SpaceX will take two more Americans, a Japanese and a Frenchman to the 23-year-old station.

Variety come and go, however, is nearing its end. Russia has announced this week that it will withdraw from the $ 150bn ISS in 2025, bringing about a period of international cooperation that prepared for the perestroika season at the end of the Cold War.

Despite tensions between Russia and the US over the past 10 years, the airspace continues to work closely with European, Japanese and Canadian counterparts. According to Nasa, 243 people from 19 countries have visited the ISS since 2000.

“Although there were difficulties in the early days because Russian and American corporations had different approaches to work, we have reached a critical level of work, so when it comes to labor force, I have only heard good things about astronauts and cosmonauts working together,” he said. says Professor Your Ojha, principal of the UK National Space Academy and advisor to the European Space Agency.

In the early days of ISS modules and assembling them into space since 1998, Russians and their Western counterparts depended on each other. “Nasa and Esa could not have created the site without Russian expertise,” Ojha said. “The Russian people were very good at making wonderful radios.”

Thirteen people boarded the space shuttle in 2010 – the largest ISS group at present © NASA

Western troops, too, need Russian rockets to carry weapons and people to and from the ISS. This confidence grew as Nasa retired from Space Shuttle in 2011, leaving Soyuz as the only carrier that wants to take on a pedestrian – a prideful Russian that ended last year when Nasa launched Elon Musk’s SpaceX system.

For Roscosmos, a Russian money-making company, the ISS alliance has meant the opportunity to earn Western money. Nasa spent $ 3.9bn on Soyuz seats to take ISS travelers between 2011 and 2019 after retiring from Shuttle, according to agency chief executive Paul Martin.

While astronaut Mark Vande Hei heading to the ISS this month may not be the last American to rock the Russian rock, most non-Russians will fly on SpaceX or on the Boeing Starliner rocket, which is expected to enter service next year.

For Russia, the idea of ​​ending its participation in the ISS is expected to lead to greater cooperation between China – part of the development of Beijing and the Kremlin.

Since Western sanctions were first imposed on Moscow in connection with their occupation of Crimea in 2014, and cuts in other economic and trade routes, Russia has reaffirmed its efforts to reach China. The two countries have signed security agreements and power connections, with trade agreements doubled from 2010 to $ 110bn in 2019.

Bound by the personalities between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, two strong leaders, strong ties and relations with Washington have broken down in both countries.

Astronaut James H Newman on a space trip in 1998
Astronaut James H Newman on a space trip in 1998 © NASA / Getty

False reports from Moscow and Washington have increased in recent years, with each claiming that the other wants to kill the place. Last July, the US sentenced Russia to shooting a projectile from one of its satellites while testing weapons, while Moscow said the US “considers the area a battlefield”.

Roscosmos has denied the US move last year to join a Nasa-led program, which seeks to establish a permanent presence on the moon. In March, Russia and China agreed to hold a joint month to “promote peaceful exploration and use of space for all”, according to a comprehensive reminder.

The Russian space agency also said Wednesday that it wants to establish its own space around 2030, using renewable modules designed for the ISS.

Some ISS weapons indicate their age. “Maturity would be a polite way to do this,” Ojha said. “The integration of the late 1990s with modern laptops and modern software can lead to problems.”

For the first 15 years the ISS staff focused on conference and construction activities, meaning that small natural sciences are in short supply.

Nasa astronomer Kate Rubins, who returned to Earth last week, told a news conference Wednesday about the hundreds of hours she spent circulating biological experiments ranging from DNA scanning at the station to growing human and vegetable tissue. “Radish was delicious,” he said. “We gave them five-star answers.”

An important part of the exploration of the ISS has been the effort to understand the long-term challenges of space travel in human life, in preparation for the expected experiments to establish the moon or go to Mars.

British astronaut Tim Peake is running a treadmill at the International Space Station in 2016

British astronomer Tim Peake runs the London marathon after being tied to a treadmill at the International Space Station in 2016 © AP

The future of the ISS after the current alliance expires at the end of 2024 is still under discussion. “According to technology, we have launched the ISS to fly until the end of 2028,” Nasa told the Financial Times. “Our analysis did not find any problems that could hinder us beyond 2028 if need be,” although power and communication systems would need to be improved.

Finally, however, 440 tons of ISS will reach the end of their lives and will need to be repatriated to Earth. “Losing it is no trivial matter,” said Martin Rees, the UK’s Royal Astronomer. “It has to come to an uninhabited area in the South Pacific.”

Until then it will continue to receive experts on Earth’s orbit, but one time is at hand.


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