The first piece of the International Space Station launched into orbit didn’t come from NASA – it actually came from Russia. 41.2 foot unit – called “Zarya”, the Russian word for sunrise – took off on It is said gloomy day from a launch facility in Kazakhstan on November 20, 1998. When it did, it was the culmination of nearly a decade of geopolitical dealings that began with the end of the Cold War in 1989, and ended with a partnership between two former enemies that would last more than 30 years.
The United States was committed to working with Moscow on the International Space Station project, not only because it represented peace between two formerly antagonistic nations but also because it could help advance democracy in Russia. Several times over the years, delegations from both countries have met in silent and opaque meetings to work out the details. When the dust has cleared, it will be Russia that has ushered the world into a new era of space travel.
So the Zarya launch wasn’t just the dawn of a new space age for studying the universe. It was an olive branch – the olive branch that ended decades of tensions, near nuclear conflict, and the complete change of world powers as we knew them. If nations do not know peace on earth, at least we can find it among the stars.
And now, a little more than twenty years later, it may all come to an end with Russia, too.
On July 26, Yuri Borisov, the new head of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, officially announced that The country will withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024 to build their own space station. after a day , Russia clarified with NASA It will stay with the International Space Station until at least 2028 – which, while Technically After 2024, he removed the initial advertisement.
““If they don’t withdraw until 2028, in a sense, it’s not a big deal,” John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told The Daily Beast. The plant is supposed to end in 2030 anyway. The partners will likely agree to a termination date a little before 2030.”
However, the country still plans to launch a new orbital position by 2030. In a recent interviewVladimir Solovyev, flight director for the Russian part of the International Space Station, gave some indications about the future of a Russian station they named the Russian Orbital Service Station (ROS). For example, it would mostly operate independently without a permanent crew on board – something he stressed would be “a step forward, not backward” for humanity, According to one translation.
However, this would be a clear separation from one or more futuristic commercial space stations that NASA plans to support. It’s also a departure from the new Chinese space station Tiangong, which astronauts are currently working on.
There’s a reason these parties stick to people more than smart machines. After all, the presence of people in these tropical outposts allows for more practical research. Additionally, if something goes wrong with the terminal (Which he often does), someone can be there to fix it right away.
The planned Russian station will also have a sun-synchronous orbit, meaning that it will pass over Earth during local daylight hours. This will allow ROSS to easily study the Earth’s poles. It should be noted, however, that there are plenty of research satellites orbiting the planet that are already doing just that.
While ROSS is certainly less complex than the International Space Station or Tiangong, it’s still a huge task — especially given the ambitious goal of launching a portion of it into orbit by 2030.
And this does not even take into account the dilapidated state of Roscosmos.
“Given the state of their space industry, I’d be shocked if they could implement it at all – not to mention 2030.“
– Wendy Whitman Cobb, US Air Force School of Advanced Aerospace Studies
The everyday beast, said Wendy Whitman Cope, a space policy expert at the US Air Force’s School of Advanced Aerospace and Space Studies. She added that even NASA, which is better funded and equipped than the Russian space agency Roscosmos, will struggle to meet the 2030 deadline. “So the fact that Russia will try to devise an entirely new system on its own seems questionable.”
“They have to start now,” Logsdon explained. “And they can’t start now because their money is very limited, and operations on the International Space Station are very expensive.”
Of course, Moscow can share the likes of China to get a station in orbit. But Cobb said Beijing has no real incentive to help them. If anything, state cooperation in something like Tiangong could undermine China’s achievements, according to her. Russia will also have to owe primarily to the Chinese space program the majority of technology such as launch vehicles – something they would likely prefer to control.
However, the plans are significant in that they are the clearest indication yet that Russia plans to follow through with what only former Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin could tease: the country ended a decades-old practice of international cooperation and co-operation in space. Peace is gone in the universe. Tensions are back in orbit and might be around to stay for a while…right?
“You might think of astronauts as tripping wire… having people there, whose lives could be threatened, makes it difficult to do dangerous things that might harm them. “
– Wendy Whitman Cobb, US Air Force School of Advanced Aerospace Studies
we will, Can. Space will likely continue to take a back seat to the consequences of geopolitical conflict on a static ground. “The existence of an orbital position has lost its political significance,” Logsdon said. NASA will have its own commercial stations. This is not high geopolitical. If Russia builds this facility, it makes tropical outposts so common that they are insignificant.”
Echoed the cup of feelings. In fact, she believes, the more outposts, labs, and astronauts in orbit, the less likely they are to escalate tensions — at least in space.
“You might think of astronauts as tripping wire,” Cobb said. “I know it’s not a good idea to think of it in that sense. But having people there, whose lives could be threatened, makes it difficult to do dangerous things that might harm them. That’s why Russian anti-satellite test Last year was very worrying. They did it near the International Space Station and there are still many pieces of debris actively threatening the astronauts.”
Think of it like a theory of nuclear deterrence. If you have Russian, Chinese and American space stations there, everyone has their own skin in the game – so everyone has something to lose. Cobb said it’s the space age equivalent of Mutual Assured Destruction, so “all these actors think twice before they do anything really crazy.”
For Logsdon, however, Russia’s withdrawal and its goals to achieve it alone are a grim example of one of the great disappointments of the space station era: It has somewhat failed—at least when it comes to its original promise to unite all. The world is on a bigger mission than any one country.
“The impact of the ISS on Earth-related policies that it had hoped for has been very limited,” Logsdon said. We do not have a democratic Russia. We have Putin. We have the invasion of Ukraine. The political significance of international cooperation on the station has lost its power – if it even existed.”
But maybe that’s fine. Russia still plans to be on the International Space Station for the next six years. Plus, the orbiting lab wasn’t supposed to last forever. Even before the chaotic breakup from Russia, it was living on lost time as it completely passed its original 15-year expiration date in operation (although the The Biden administration has extended its operating life until 2030).
So perhaps it is appropriate, then, that the country that launched its first piece into orbit – a unit named after dawn – should be present when the sun sets on it for the last time.
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