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Russia Plans to Sink the International Space Station

The International Space Station is slated for a watery death, sunk into one of Earth’s oceans. The Russian Space Agency has announced its intention to sink the ISS sometime after 2020, once it has reached the end of its operable time. The decision to sink the ISS was made because leaving it in space would pose a risk of debris left in orbit and such “space junk” can be problematic.

The ISS was launched in 1998 and was intended to operate for 15 years (until 2013), however, an agreement was recently reached that should keep it functioning until 2020. By sinking into oceanic oblivion, the ISS will follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, the Russian space station Mir, which was sunk into the Pacific Ocean in 2001 after 15 years in space.

In a statement released recently, Deputy head of the Roskosmos Space Agency Vitaly Davydov said:

“After it completes its existence, we will be forced to sink the ISS. It cannot be left in orbit, it’s too complex, too heavy an object, it can leave behind lots of rubbish.”

Space debris is becoming an increasing problem. Recently the six-member crew of the ISS was forced into their rescue craft (though they were not forced to actually evacuate) when a piece of debris just missed colliding with the space station. The ISS orbits approximately 220 miles above Earth and is a collaborative project between Russia, the US, Europe, Japan, and Canada.

With the last US Space Shuttle mission completed, Russia recently proclaimed this to be the beginning of the the era of the Soyuz, referring to the Russian space craft that will now be used to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. It would seem as though Russia is poised to take a leading role in space exploration, as they have also announced plans to build a new space shuttle, tests of which may begin sometime after 2015.

As for the ISS, by 2020 it will have served for 22 years. By that time one can only hope that there will be something as equal in importance and innovation as the ISS was in 1998 to replace it.

(via Discovery News, photo via NASA)

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