The United States on Tuesday voiced regret over Russia’s announcement that it would exit the International Space Station after 2024 and said it was taken by surprise.
“It’s an unfortunate development given the critical scientific work performed at the ISS, the valuable professional collaboration our space agencies have had over the years, and especially in light of our renewed agreement on space-flight cooperation,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
“I understand that we were taken by surprise by the public statement,” he told reporters.
NASA’s director of the ISS, Robyn Gatens, earlier said that the US space agency had not “received any official word from the partner as to the news today.”
NASA itself plans to retire the ISS — a symbol of post-Cold War unity — after 2030 as it transitions to working with commercial space stations, and Gatens suggested Russia might be thinking about its own transition.
Asked whether she wanted the US-Russia space relationship to end, she replied: “No, absolutely not.”
“They have been good partners, as all of our partners are, and we want to continue together, as a partnership, to continue operating space station through the decade.”
Gatens was responding to an announcement by newly appointed Roscosmos chief Yury Borisov.
“Of course, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision to leave this station after 2024 has been made,” Borisov told Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I think that by this time we will start putting together a Russian orbital station,” Borisov added, calling it the space program’s main “priority.”
“Good,” Putin replied in comments released by the Kremlin.
The announcement comes as tensions rage between the Kremlin and the West over Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine and several rounds of unprecedented sanctions against Russia.
Russia and the United States have worked side by side on the ISS, which has been in orbit since 1998.
Until now space exploration was one of the few areas where cooperation between Russia and the United States and its allies had not been affected by tensions over Ukraine and elsewhere.
Borisov said the space industry was in a “difficult situation.”
He said he would seek “to raise the bar, and first of all, to provide the Russian economy with the necessary space services,” pointing to navigation, communication, and data transmission, among other things.
Sending the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier are among key accomplishments of the Soviet space program and remain a major source of national pride in Russia.
But experts say the Russian space agency remains a shadow of its former self and has in recent years suffered a series of setbacks including corruption scandals and the loss of a number of satellites and other spacecraft.
Borisov, a former deputy prime minister with a military background, has replaced Dmitry Rogozin, a firebrand nationalist politician known for his bombastic statements and eccentric behavior.