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Russia Threatens to Pull out of the ISS Over Politics, Good Luck Opening the Pod Bay Doors Without Them, NASA

This is getting dangerously close to "I know you are, but what am I?" and inter-space agency slap fights.

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Just two weeks ago, Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister of Russia and head of the space and defense industry, told NASA where they could shove it that they could use a trampoline to get to the ISS, because sanctions have made Russia sick of helping us. Now, he’s talking about pulling out of the ISS early and rendering it pretty much useless.

On Tuesday, Rogozin held a briefing that you can read here if you happen to understand Russian. I do not, but Slate has a (rough) translation of the parts that pertain to us nerdy types, such as a tacit threat that Russia can pull out of the ISS whenever they feel like it and leave the US unable to make proper use of it—if we can even get there. He said that Russia won’t need the ISS after 2020, four years before NASA plans to stop using it in 2024, and added:

The Russian segment [of the ISS] … can exist independently from the U.S., the American segment of Russia cannot exist independently. It’s the specifications of the station.

Unfortunately, he’s not exactly wrong. NASA has a backup Interim Control Module for the ISS that was built out of fear that Russian financial troubles around the time the ISS was coming together would prevent them from finishing the Zvezda module that’s up there today, but getting it up there would be quite a task. The Russian module has the propulsion module as well as critical systems to keep life support going. If they decide to shut everyone else off from it, that would certainly be a problem.

The idea that Russia would just pack all that up and leave the rest of the space station’s inhabitants hanging (eh? Eh?) is a little absurd, but they’d have plenty of time between now and 2020 to give everyone fair warning. Sure, we’ve got a spare, but the difficulty in switching the critical modules seems a little extreme to squeeze another four years out of the space station.

Hopefully, these are just tough words to scare the US about sanctions and politics, and Russia isn’t actually going to HAL 9000 a bunch of other ISS astronauts. If not, at least we’ve already got private space companies working on getting people to and from space without help from Russian rocket engines. Help us, Elon Musk! You’re our only hope!

(via Slate, image via 2001: A Space Odyssey)

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