NASA astronauts have handed over the metaphorical (and ceremonial) keys to the ISS to Russian cosmonauts, as they prepare for their descent back to Earth, leaving Russia in charge. NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn ceded over to cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev yesterday as the four astronauts who were part of SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission prepared for the return.
Mr Marshburn said during a webcast: “I think the lasting legacy of the space station is very likely to be international cooperation and a place of peace.
“Oleg, you’re a very strong and experienced cosmonaut.
“I know we’ll be leaving the space station in good hands with you.”
The astronaut then repeated his word in Russian and handed over the ceremonial key.
Mr Artemyev responded in English saying: “Thank you for the key, and thank you for the friendship.”
He stressed the importance of such cooperation and friendship for “family, our children and peace between our countries”, adding “it was an unbelievable time together”.
The two spacemen hugged each other while the rest of the crew onboard the ISS applauded them.
This moment of interstellar camaraderie came just over a month after Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos threatened to crash the 400-tonne floating research lab into the Earth.
Furious at the sanctions placed by Western countries as a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Space Agency chief implied that Russia could let the station crash into the Earth.
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The first two components of the ISS come from the Russian modules “Zarya” and “Zvezda”, which use their engines to raise the orbit of the ISS from time to time when the upper layers of the atmosphere begin slowing down the station.
If Vladimir Putin decided to decouple these two modules, some experts have warned that the ISS would only survive for a short period of time before it enters Earth’s atmosphere.
But under the terms disclosed by the ISS IGA, Russia cannot remove its section of the station without at least one year’s written notice.
Flouting those rules, according to David Kuan-Wei Chen, the executive director of McGill University’s Centre for Research in Air and Space Law, would “severely undermine trust in and prospects of Russian cooperation in the future”.
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos stoked these fears on Twitter, sharing a horrifying map of where Russia could let the ISS crash.
Describing the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine as “illegal”, he said that the restrictions could disrupt the operations of Russian vessels servicing the ISS.
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But former US astronaut Scott Kelly previously rubbished these claims.
He told ABC News: “I never thought I would hear anything so outrageous.
“I think it is just a crazy threat. It is not really based on reality.
“We do have the ability to control the orbit of the space station independent of the Russian space agency, so I don’t really see that happening.”