Will the Russian war on Ukraine lead to the demise of the International Space Station (ISS)? Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, says Western sanctions resulting from its invasion of Ukraine have led Russia to question its commitment to the space station beyond 2024—news that casts doubt on the program’s future. “We’re in an unknown situation here,” Scott Pace, a former executive secretary of the National Space Council, told The Wall Street Journal.
The space station is currently orbiting Earth at a speed of five miles per second with a crew that includes Russians and Americans. It has been a refuge from international conflict since its construction in 1998, says Mai’a Cross, the Edward W. Brooke Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Northeastern. But the reverberations of the new war may extend beyond the atmosphere.
“It is impossible for this space station to exist without teamwork,” says Cross, who is serving as guest editor of a special edition of The Hague Journal of Diplomacy that will be focused on space diplomacy. “Many people have said it is the greatest, biggest, and most expensive example of civil cooperation that has existed. You would see the ISS fail only if it was absolutely the last resort—if countries were in such dismal relationships with each other on Earth that they couldn’t stomach the idea of continuing.”