There is one place where US-Russian relations are still going strong: the ISS

According to official reports, professional relationships exist at the International Space Station ISS. “But the future of the ISS is not influenced by astronauts, but by politicians and heads of space agencies,” Dušan Majer from the Kosmonautix server reminds.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a whirlwind of sanctions and a cooling of relations between the West and Moscow to an absolute minimum. But so far, everything is going according to plan on the ISS.

Today, the Soyuz-2.1 rocket will launch the Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft with three new Russian crew members from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The return of American astronaut Mark Vande Heie and two Russian colleagues, still aboard the Soyuz, is scheduled for March 30.

“The astronauts of the ISS – currently the crew consists of Americans, Russians and a German – are professionals. They continue their research and the planned tasks. Almost a month has passed since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, but it is still a relatively recent event for astronautics, so more steps will follow in the coming months,” says publicist Dušan Majer in the Stopáž podcast.

But the scathing statements of the head of Russian Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, return to Earth.

“Rogozin is very well known for his big statements on Twitter. Years ago, during the Crimean crisis, he said that American astronauts could travel to the ISS instead of Soyuz ships, for example, by means of “a trampoline. He is currently adding to his repertoire by declaring that the Russians will stop supplying Russian rocket engines to the United States and that Americans will fly into space with whatever they want, like brooms. This rhetoric doesn’t deviate from what we’re used to in Rogozin, but it doesn’t contribute to the general mood,” says Majer.

In response to Rogozin’s statement in February, NASA said only that it continued to work with all of its international partners on the safe operation of the International Space Station. The ISS has funding until 2028, with the US Space Agency retaining its stake until 2031, after which it wants to transition to using commercial space stations in low orbit.

How does the International Space Station work?

The ISS is currently the only permanently manned space station. It is a joint project of five space agencies: the American NASA, the Russian Roscosmos, the Japanese JAXA, the Canadian CSA and the European ESA. The basic division is into Russian and American segments. The transport of astronauts to the station and back is provided by Russian-carried spacecraft Soyuz and Crew Dragon from the American private company SpaceX. The use of private American Starliner vessels is also in preparation. The station is powered by automatic cargo spacecraft – Russian Progress, American Cargo Dragons and Cygnus and Japanese HTV.

Is it possible that the Western and Russian parts of the ISS will separate sooner in the event of a further escalation in relations?

“Technically, nothing stops the division. The modules are not glued or welded, the latches and some connecting mechanisms would simply disengage and these parts would go their own way. But the ISS was designed as a whole from the start – each part has its task and does not have to worry about those of the other part. If a hypothetical division of the station took place, the American parts would mainly lack fuel tanks, which are in the Russian section. It would also not have engines to change orbit, evasive maneuvers, ”explains the editor-in-chief of the Kosmonautix server.

But the Russians say they will honor their commitments on the space station. “If they didn’t, they would be cutting off their branches even more under them in the future than they are doing now. Russian astronautics has gone down a bit in recent years. No one can deny them piloting Soyuz, but Russia’s civilian agenda is fading,” Majer adds.

Where has the tension between Russia and Western space agencies played out? And what is the fate of the Euro-Russian ExoMars mission? Listen to the entire podcast in the player at the beginning of the article.

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The one podcast you need to listen to this week if you can’t follow Twitter and want to follow. Presented by Jan Kordovský (@korda).

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