Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin caused quite a stir earlier this month when he made statements implying that Russia would not continue using the International Space Station (ISS) beyond 2020. The comments are widely thought to be fallout from U.S. sanctions against Russia and prominent Russian officials, including Rogozin, in the wake of Russia's actions in the Ukraine. The comments brought into question whether the 13-year U.S. and Russian ISS partnership, which historically has been spared from political conflict, could be in jeopardy.
In an article in The Christian Science Monitor, John Logsdon, former director of the George Washington University's Space Policy institute asserted that Russia couldn't operate the station without U.S. participation. "There's such a level of mutual interdependence that they both really need one another," he said.
Members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee sent a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden requesting information "to get a better understanding of the potential implications of Mr. Rogozin's comments." At present, the only way for U.S. astronauts to reach the ISS is via a Russian shuttle. The U.S. pays approximately $60 million per astronaut. In January of this year, the White House proposed extending operations through 2024, but no other country officially agreed to the extension.
According to NASA officials, day-to-day operations at the ISS remain normal. "We have not received any official notification from the Government of Russia on any changes in our space cooperation at this point," said a NASA statement posted on Science Policy Online. One day after Rogozin's press conference, a Russian Soyuz capsule returned three astronauts—American, Japanese and Russian—from the ISS.
Meanwhile, NASA is working with private companies to send astronauts to space, including SpaceX, which hopes to be approved to transport astronauts by 2017. NASA already has contracts with this company and Orbital Space Corp. to run resupply missions to the ISS. Less than a week after Rogozin's comments, a Dragon spacecraft from SpaceX returned to Earth with scientific cargo, including exeperimental results, from the ISS. NASA analysts expect the experimental data to improve their knowledge of how the human body adapts to living in space and possibly lead to new technologies that could allow prolonged space exploration.