NASA has criticized the Russian space agency for using the International Space Station (ISS) for propaganda photos related to its invasion of Ukraine.
The photos show three Russian cosmonauts holding the flags of two regions of eastern Ukraine that have been seized by Russian armed forces, prompting a “strong rebuke” from the US space agency.
NASA described the stunt as “fundamentally incompatible with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating nations to advance science and technology for peaceful purposes.”
Despite the intensification of the ground conflict between Washington and Moscow, cooperation in low Earth orbit has largely continued without much challenge from the US to its Russian partners – although the executive director of Roscosmos repeatedly threatened to refuse cooperation.
On Monday, Roscosmos published photos of astronauts raising the flags of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, which are not recognized by the international community.
There are concerns that the diplomatic fallout from the war in Ukraine could undermine the international cooperation needed to ensure the safety of the ISS in orbit and the safety of astronauts.
NASA before said Sky News that, despite heated discussions and deteriorating relations on Earth, cooperation between Russia and the United States on the ISS will continue.
“There’s really no tension in the team,” said Joel Montalbano, ISS program manager.
His comments followed a mocking video published on social media by the Russian government-controlled RIA Novosti, showing the astronauts abandoning NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hey on the space station.
Concerns grew when the video was retweeted by the head of the Russian space agency Raskosmos, Dmitry Rogozin.
It was just one of several barbed tweets sent by Russia’s U.S. space chief and his European counterparts following the imposition of sanctions against Russia.
The end of the ISS
Regardless of the outcome of the invasion of Ukraine and relations between the US and Russia, the long-term future of the ISS is likely to be limited.
NASA has released plans for the 444,615 kg structure to be lifted from orbit in January 2031. crashed into the “spaceship graveyard” in the most remote place on Earth.
The commercial crew program is part of NASA’s effort to help the private sector gain a foothold in space, eventually replacing the orbiting laboratory with a series of commercial space stations.
In an ideal scenario, the altitude of the space station’s orbit would slowly decrease from its current altitude of 408 km (253 mi).
As the ISS descends, it will encounter an increasingly dense atmosphere, which will add more drag and pull it even lower.
The space station will still be moving so fast that it will begin to heat up and throw debris on its way behind.
To avoid this debris from damaging people or property, the ISS is scheduled to crash into an uninhabited area in the South Pacific near Point Nemo.
Nemo Point has been called the spacecraft graveyard because—as the point on Earth farthest from land—it is the destination for decommissioned spacecraft returning to Earth.