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Russia threatens to leave International Space Station program (again)

The International Space Station as pictured from a SpaceX Crew Dragon during a November 2021 fly around.
The International Space Station as pictured from a SpaceX Crew Dragon during a November 2021 fly around. (Image credit: NASA)

Russia has once again threatened to end its cooperation with the West on the International Space Station (ISS) program.

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos, decried the sanctions imposed by the United States, Japan, Canada and the European Union — the other ISS partners — on his nation because of its invasion of Ukraine.

"The purpose of the sanctions is to kill the Russian economy, plunge our people into despair and hunger and bring our country to its knees," Rogozin said via Twitter on Saturday (opens in new tab) (April 2). (He tweeted in Russian; translation provided by Google.)

"I believe that the restoration of normal relations between partners in the International Space Station and other joint projects is possible only with the complete and unconditional lifting of illegal sanctions," he added in another tweet (opens in new tab).

Live updates: Russia's Ukraine invasion and space impacts

Rogozin also apparently made this or a similar complaint to the ISS partner agencies in a formal fashion on March 14; on Saturday, he posted on Twitter what he said were some partners' responses to a letter of that date.

For example, Rogozin shared what he said was a March 30 letter from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. 

"The U.S. continues to support international government space cooperation, especially those activities associated with operating the ISS with Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan," Nelson's letter states, in part. "New and existing U.S. export control measures continue to allow cooperation between the U.S. and Russia to ensure continued safe operations of the ISS."

Rogozin's recent tweets do not necessarily mean that the ISS program is in immediate danger of dissolution; the Russian space chief is a blustery figure with a history of hyperbolic statements.

For example, on Feb. 24 — the day that Russia invaded Ukraine — Rogozin said that newly imposed economic sanctions could "destroy" the ISS partnership. But it has been more or less business as usual aboard the orbiting lab since then. On March 30, for example, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei came back to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with two cosmonauts. The landing went off without a hitch despite the heightened geopolitical tensions.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).  

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.