Russia Retracts Statement Of 2020 International Space Station Retirement
After causing a world-wide commotion, the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, retracted its announcement Thursday of an early retirement of the International Space Station. In the original statement, Roscosmos First Deputy Vitaly Davydov had said the ISS would be taken out of orbit and sunk into the Pacific Ocean in 2020, nearly a decade earlier than currently planned.
An early retirement of the ISS would cut short valuable scientific research that can only be conducted in the unique conditions available on board an orbital research facility. In the absence of gravity, for example, scientists have created perfect crystals needed for experiments in the fields of microbiology, ecology, chemistry, thermodynamics, astronomy, meterology, and particle physics. Because such crystals can only be created in space, this is often cited as a major contribution of the ISS. De-orbiting it before a replacement research station is built would temporarily make experiments dependent upon these crystals impossible. The ISS is also the site of experiments in human physiology, immunology, and life science.
The space agencies of Russia, the United States, Japan, Europe, and Canada have been jointly managing the International Space Station since 1998. It is the longest continually-inhabited orbital research station, having maintained a permanent staff since November of 2000. It replaced the Soviet (and, later, Russian) space station Mir, which orbited from 1986 until 2001 and was the most advanced space station of its era.
The question of when to de-orbit the ISS has been asked several times before. Funding, especially from the European Space Agency, threatened to dry up as member countries tightened their purse strings in the uncertain financial climate created by the 2008 global recession. In fact, the NASA policy under President George W. Bush established an end date of just 2015 in favor of a return of American astronauts to the Moon. This was reversed under the Obama administration, when the five space agencies met for a 2010 summit in Tokyo and officially agreed to extend the life of the station through at least 2020. They also set a “certification objective” of 2028, which will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the station's operation. The Wednesday announcement of a 2020 retirement was therefore quite unexpected.
“Right now we've agreed with our partners that the station will be used until approximately 2020,” Davydov had said in an interview with RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency. Neither Congress nor NASA was aware of this, detracting from the statement's credibility.
“I would give it no credence at all,” a U.S. congressional representative told FOX News in an interview.
The next day, Roscosmos retracted the statement, saying instead an official extension until 2028 is highly likely.
“The partners have agreed to continue the ISS operation until 2020,” said the agency's Press Secretary Anna Vedishcheva in an interview with Interfax-AVN, a Russian news agency which reports mainly on issues regarding the military and national defense policy. “The partners will also approve an extended period of the ISS.”
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