Russia's space agency announced Tuesday that Russia will leave the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024, The New York Times reports.
The International Space Station was built in a joint effort between the United States and Russia in 1998 as a symbol of post-Cold War cooperation between the world's two leading powers in space. Astronauts have occupied the ISS since 2002, and over the past 20 years, the station has become an important laboratory for scientific research in space, according to the paper.
However, the future of the International Space Station grew uncertain when the new head of Russia's space agency Yuri Borisov announced that Russia would be leaving the ISS when its commitment expires in 2024.
"The decision to leave the station after 2024 has been made," Yuri Borisov said on Tuesday.
Russia's exit from the International Space Station could end the project that NASA has worked tirelessly building, spending close to $100 billion over the last quarter-century, NYT reports.
Other nations that are partners with the ISS include Canada, Europe, and Japan, and the space station is currently studying the effects of weightlessness and radiation on human health, research that desperately needs to be finished before astronauts embark on long voyages to Mars.
Assistant secretary John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told The New York Times that the White House did not receive a formal statement from Russia that they would be withdrawing from the space station in 2024.
"We are exploring options to mitigate any potential impacts on the I.S.S. beyond 2024 if in fact Russia withdraws," John Kirby said.
During a briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, "I understand that we were taken by surprise by the public statement that went out." Russia's announcement was "an unfortunate development."
In a statement released on Tuesday by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator Bill Nelson, the administrator informed that "NASA is committed to the safe operation of the International Space Station through 2030."
However, the NASA inspector general warned that if Russia follows through with ending its commitment in 2024, the International Space Station will struggle to continue operations through 2030 and could lead to gaps where NASA has no orbiting laboratory to conduct research, according to The New York Times.
If Russia's decision to leave the ISS results in the space station being abandoned, then China will have the only operating space station in orbit, the paper notes.
Russia's announcement that they will be leaving the ISS came after Borisov met with President Vladimir Putin in which he informed Putin of the decision and said, "I think that, by this time, we will begin to form the Russian orbital station."
Putin replied and said, "Good."
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