NASA has criticized the Russian space agency for using the International Space Station (ISS) to stage propaganda photos related to its invasion of Ukraine.
The photos show three Russian cosmonauts waving the flags of two regions of eastern Ukraine that had been captured by Russian forces – prompting a “strong reprimand” from the US space agency.
The stunt was described by NASA as “fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating countries, to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes.”
Despite the growing terrestrial conflict between Washington and Moscow, cooperation in low-Earth orbit has largely continued without the US challenging its Russian partners — although the Roscosmos chief executive has done so repeatedly threatened to stop working together.
Roskosmos on Monday released photos of cosmonauts raising the flags of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, which are not recognized by the international community.
There are concerns that diplomatic rows over the war in Ukraine could undermine the international cooperation needed to keep the ISS in orbit and the safety of astronauts.
NASA before said Sky News that despite heated arguments and deteriorating relations on Earth, cooperation between Russia and the US on the ISS will continue.
“There’s really no tension in the team,” said Joel Montalbano, program manager for the ISS.
His comments were followed by an ironic video posted on social media by the Russian government-controlled RIA Novosti, showing NASA astronaut Mark T. Vande Hei being abandoned on the space station by cosmonauts.
Concerns grew when the video was retweeted by the head of Russia’s Roskosmos space agency, Dmitry Rogozin.
It was just one of several stinging tweets the Russian space chief has directed at US and European colleagues since sanctions were imposed on Russia.
The end of the ISS
Regardless of the outcome of the invasion of Ukraine and US-Russia relations, the long-term future of the ISS is likely limited.
NASA has released plans that the 444,615 kg structure could be deorbited in January 2031 crashed into a “spaceship graveyard” in the most remote place on earth.
The Commercial Crew Program is part of NASA’s effort to help the private sector get a foothold in space and ultimately replace the orbiting laboratory with a series of commercial space stations.
In the perfect scenario, the space station’s orbital altitude will be slowly lowered from its current altitude of 408 km (253 miles).
As the ISS descends in altitude, it will encounter an increasingly dense atmosphere, adding more drag and pulling it even lower.
The space station will still be traveling so fast that it will begin to heat up and eject debris in a path behind it.
The plan to avoid this debris damaging people or property is to crash the ISS into an uninhabited area of the South Pacific near Point Nemo.
Point Nemo has been dubbed the spacecraft graveyard because — as the furthest point on Earth from any country — it is where decommissioned spacecraft are typically targeted when they return to Earth.