NASA criticizes Russia for using space station to stage propaganda photos

NASA has criticized the Russian space agency for using the International Space Station (ISS) to take propaganda photos related to its invasion of Ukraine.

The photos show three Russian cosmonauts holding up the flags of two regions of eastern Ukraine that had been captured by Russian military forces, prompting the US space agency to issue a “strong rebuke”.

The stunt was described as “fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes” by NASA.

Despite the escalating ground conflict between Washington and Moscow, cooperation in low Earth orbit has largely continued with little challenge from the US to its Russian partners, although Roscosmos’ chief executive has repeatedly threatened to withdraw cooperation.

Roscosmos on Monday published photos of cosmonauts 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 is concern that the diplomatic fallout from the war in Ukraine could undermine the international cooperation needed to keep the ISS in orbit and astronauts safe.

NASA formerly he told Sky News that despite heated exchanges 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, ISS program manager.

His comments followed a tongue-in-cheek video posted on social media by the Russian government-controlled RIA Novosti showing NASA astronaut Mark T Vande Hei being left behind on the space station by cosmonauts.

Concerns grew when the head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, retweeted the video.

It was just one of several scathing tweets sent by the Russian space chief to American and European colleagues since sanctions were imposed on Russia.

The end of the ISS

Regardless of the outcome of the Ukraine invasion and US-Russian relations, the long-term future of the ISS is likely to be limited.

NASA has released plans that could see the 444,615kg structure out of orbit in January 2031 and crashed into a “spaceship graveyard” in the most remote place on Earth.

The Commercial Crew Program is part of NASA’s efforts to help the private sector gain 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 slowly drop from its current altitude of 408 km (253 miles).

As the ISS’s altitude decreases, it will encounter an increasingly dense atmosphere, adding more drag and pushing it even lower.

The space station will keep traveling so fast that it will start to heat up and throw debris in a path behind it.

The plan to prevent this debris from harming people or property is for the ISS to crash into an uninhabited area of ​​the southern Pacific Ocean, near Point Nemo.

Point Nemo has been called a spaceship graveyard because, as the most distant point on Earth from any land, it is where decommissioned spacecraft typically point when returning to Earth.

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