Russia announced not long ago that it was considering leaving the ISS next year. At the same time, Russia has been cozying up with China, and the two countries have plans to work together in space. The US and Russia have worked together for a long time aboard the ISS, having enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship serving as a symbol of cooperation.
Russian officials have been threatening to pull out of the ISS project as soon as 2024. The US government and NASA want the ISS to continue operating until at least 2030. NASA chief Bill Nelson recently said, “if Russia pulls out, it would not be good.” Even worse than Russia pulling out of the ISS project is the fact that Russia has been talking about working closely with China.
NASA is currently barred by federal law from working with China on any space projects. Earlier this year, China and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding for establishing a joint lunar base. Russia leaving the ISS and working with China could kick off a new space race.
The space race in the 60s ultimately resulted in NASA putting astronauts on the moon. Before NASA can conduct any conversations on cooperation with China, it would require explicit approval by the FBI or Congress. Nelson says if Russia starts depending on China, he expects a new race to the moon with China and Russia against the US. Nelson is clear that he wants NASA’s cooperation with Russia to continue in space.
For now, Russia is still planning on making needed repairs to the ISS and is still scheduling flights for Russian cosmonauts to and from the space station. The cooperation continues for now, but it’s unclear if that will last past 2024.