Countries from all over the world are involved in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But high in the sky, 432 kilometers above our heads, a group of astronauts and astronauts managed to fly over the conflict and verbal skirmishes on Earth. There are two Russian astronauts aboard the International Space Station, including the commander of the current expedition, an astronaut from the European Space Agency and four American astronauts. Together, they continue to maintain the station, conduct research experiments and prepare for spacewalk and crew rotations, despite the war below.
The International Space Station (ISS) program began in the 1980s. Partners are the United States, Japan, the successor to the disintegrated USSR – the Russian Federation. Construction into orbit began in 1998, and the space station has been permanently inhabited since 2000. According to the latest amendments to the plan, the ISS will operate at least until 2024.
Following the outbreak of the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine on February 24, the question of what is happening to the ISS and its crew is on the agenda now that Russia is sanctioned by the EU, the United States and their partners. For now, the astronauts continue to work in the usual way, in full cooperation.
On Friday, the first day after the start of hostilities, seven ISS members joined mission commander and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov in an emergency exercise to practice coordinated responses to fires, chemical leaks and other unlikely events on board. the space station.
NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn has continued to conduct experiments in the field of skin aging. ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer continued to study the genetics of cotton cells in space. NASA astronaut Raja Chari maintained the treadmill, which the crew used for exercise.
On Monday, ISS crew members took blood samples and worked on jetpacks in preparation for the upcoming spacewalk, scheduled for March 15th and 23rd. Russia’s Progress 79 spacecraft uses its engines to raise the ISS to a slightly higher orbit.
Below Earth, those responsible for space programs in individual countries are exchanging light verbal blows, but with no firm intention of changing the work of the ISS. Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, recalled that Russian engines were helping to control the ISS in space. The spacecraft are periodically turned on to boost the station and adjust its course so that it can continue to move into orbit.
The speech then became sharper as Rogozin asked in his typical sarcastic spirit what would happen if the partnership was blocked. “If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from uncontrolled orbit,” he asked. He hinted that in such a situation the station could fall to Earth, for example in the United States or Europe.
Megamillionaire Elon Musk reacted to this. He answered Rogozin’s rhetorical question the next day by simply posting the SpaceX logo on Twitter. Musk then said that his own spacecraft could easily take on the task of maintaining the ISS course to help it avoid space debris and maintain its height. This can be done with SpaceX Dragon capsules.
The verbal skirmish was a slight reminder of such an exchange of courtesies in 2014. There were also Western sanctions on Russia at the time. As American astronauts were traveling to the ISS at the time via Soyuz spacecraft, Rogozin ironically “suggested” NASA use a trampoline to send its astronauts into orbit.
Musk responded to this scathing comment six years later, in 2020, after SpaceX Crew Dragon took NASA astronauts to the ISS for the first time. “The trampoline works,” Musk said.
A good will
On Monday, NASA said it continued to operate the International Space Station as usual, with its partners, including Russia. “Our activities are nominal,” said Space Operations Administrator Katie Lueders. “We have worked in similar situations before – both sides have always acted very professionally and understood the importance of this mission on a professional level.”
Space program managers continue to work together and have good communication. At least at the “working level” there are no signs of problems. “We, as a team, are working just like three weeks ago,” Lueders said.
Plans to send the Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft to the ISS, which Roscosmos is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 18, remain in place. The spacecraft is due to return to Earth on March 30. He will be accompanied by Anton Shkaplerov, his colleague Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande High, who will set a new American record of 355 consecutive days in space. The three will land in southeastern Kazakhstan. Lueders is adamant that all normal landing procedures are expected to continue as usual.
Russia continues to provide fuel and thrust engines for the periodic repositioning of the space station. NASA gyroscopes provide stability to the station. Solar panels continue to generate most of the electricity.
NASA responded to Rogozin’s comments, saying the space agency continues to work with all international partners. “The new export control measures will allow cooperation between the United States and Russia in the civilian space. No changes are planned in its support for ongoing operations in orbit and ground stations.
Rogozin softened his tone by writing on Twitter: “As diplomats say, ‘our fears have been heard’.”
Meanwhile, new residents will arrive on the ISS on March 30th. This will happen with the first completely private mission to the space station – Axiom Space Ax-1. Four astronauts, three of whom are paid, will travel to the ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for a 10-day stay.
Axiom’s plans are to build a completely own, commercial space station. The company is also preparing its own, private module to the ISS, which should be ready within two years, as part of the project for the private space station.
Lueders identifies the ISS Partnership as an important symbol of human cooperation in a world full of struggles. “The ISS is an international cooperation created on the basis of interdependence, which makes it an incredible program,” she said. “This is a place where we live and work in space, in a peaceful way.”
In the long run, the future of the ISS is clear only until 2024. The current participants will continue their cooperation within this period. Then, from 2026 onwards, the orbital laboratory will begin to gradually descend to Earth. From June to November 2030, three additional unmanned Progress cargo ships will dock with the station and use their engines to slow down the ISS. The ISS will then go out of orbit to burn somewhere over the South Pacific.