Mar 18, 2022 - Science

NASA head says Russia is still committed to International Space Station

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson during a press conference in Orlando in November 2021.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson during a press conference in Orlando in November 2021. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said on Friday that Russia is still committed to the International Space Station despite recent threats to end cooperation on the station from the head of its state-run space agency.

Why it matters: Roscosmos director general Dmitry Rogozin has repeatedly threatened to pull out of the space station and allow it to fall back to Earth in an uncontrolled deorbit in protest of sanctions on Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

  • U.S. and Russia's relationship in space was already significantly frayed after Moscow tested an anti-satellite missile in November, debris from which threatened the crew of the ISS, NASA said.
  • The U.S. and Russia have collaborated in civilian capacity in space for decades, primarily through the ISS — which can't function without both countries participating.

What they're saying: Nelson pointed to Russia's plan to launch three cosmonauts to the ISS on Friday as evidence of its desire to continue cooperating with the U.S. on the station.

  • "The Russians are still committed to the International Space Station by virtue of the fact that they're going to lift off from Baikonur today," Nelson said on CNBC Friday.
  • Nelson told AP that Rogozin "spouts off every now and then. But at the end of the day, he’s worked with us."
  • "The other people that work in the Russian civilian space program, they’re professional. They don’t miss a beat with us, American astronauts and American mission control."

The big picture: Roscosmos stopped all Soyuz rocket launches from the European Space Agency's primary spaceport in February in protest of sanctions, resulting in the suspension of ExoMars, Europe's first-ever rover mission to Mars that was set to launch this year.

  • American astronaut Mark Vande Hei, who broke the U.S. single spaceflight record of 340 days on Tuesday, is set to return back to Earth on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on March 30 with cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.
  • Roscosmos has said that Vande Hei will return on the capsule, though it has also posted edited — and apparently comical — videos on social media showing the cosmonauts leaving him behind and detaching the Russian portion of the ISS altogether.

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