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Russia Blasting Off? Questions Abound About Future of International Space Station

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

Is the International Space Station still a thing? Seems like in the last decade or so, with the advent of somewhat private “space” travel by the likes of Elon Musk and Virgin head Richard Branson that the space station has almost been forgotten about.

When the space station was conceived and began in 1998, it seemed almost inconceivable that humans would be living and working in space. Now? Yawn, those guys still up there?

That’s what we do. What was once a miracle of science and humanity becoming yesterday’s boring news.  This is nothing new to a society without imagination that has a painfully short attention span.

Maybe that’s why Russia is pulling out from their part of the station. They are bored? What am I talking about? Let’s go to MSN for the otherworldly details:

The new head of Russia’s space agency announced on Tuesday that Russia will leave the International Space Station after its current commitment expires at the end of 2024.

The pronouncement came during a meeting between Mr. Borisov and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Mr. Borisov told Mr. Putin that Russia would fulfill its commitments through 2024. “I think that by this time we will begin to form the Russian orbital station,” he said.

Mr. Putin’s response: “Good.”

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Now, I know I’m not the only one that heard Putin say ‘good’ in a supervillain voice, right? I picture him stroking a hairless cat, sitting in a giant swivel chair. Maybe that’s Dr. Evil. Same thing, right?

It doesn’t seem surprising that Russia wants to strike out on their own. The ISS was a symbol of the end of Cold War tensions between the two countries and considering Brandon has taken us basically back to Cold War era foreign policy, it isn’t shocking that Russia is giving us the “peace out”.

“This could be bluster from the Russians,” said Phil Larson, a White House space adviser during the Obama administration. “It could be revisited, or it could come to fruition.”

Well, that’s certainly some knowledgeable, in-depth observation isn’t it. This statement is the living embodiment of the “shrugging shoulder’ emoji. Not surprising coming from an Obama era advisor.

Whether the station can operate without Russia’s involvement after 2024 is uncertain. The outpost in orbit consists of two sections, one led by NASA, the other by Russia. The two are interconnected. Much of the power on the Russian side comes from NASA’s solar panels, while the Russians provide propulsion to periodically raise the orbit.

If Russia does in fact vacate their side of the ISS, what happens? Do American astronauts man it? Is it left vacant? Will we partner with another country? Will a Spirit Halloween Store pop up? So many questions remain to be answered.

One thing is certain, this move is intentional and due to the strained relations between the countries.

But with tensions between Washington and Moscow rising, Russian space officials including Dmitry Rogozin, Mr. Borisov’s predecessor, had made declarations in recent months that Russia was planning to leave. But they left ambiguity about when or whether a final decision had been made. NASA officials, who want to extend operations of the space station through 2030, have expressed confidence that Russia would remain.

Russia has plans for its own space station, but Roscosmos has been financially strapped for years. After the retirement of the U.S. space shuttles in 2011, NASA had to buy seats on the Soyuz rockets, providing a steady stream of money to the Russians. That revenue dried up after SpaceX started providing transportation for NASA astronauts two years ago.

Russia can’t afford to build their own space station, and now Elon Musk is giving free rides like a rocket powered Uber to NASA astronauts, eating even further into Russian funding.

Certainly, that hasn’t helped relations between the two countries space programs. In the end, perhaps it is best for America to go it alone with the ISS? Russia has been acting like a jerk on the world front for some time, so maybe they just need to build their own and get out of ours. Either way it looks like America will be flying solo again, sooner rather than later.