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The Future of the International Space Station Looks Dire

For 30 years the U.S.-Russia partnership at the ISS was above it all. Now the U.S. finds itself in need of a friend, not a foe.

The International Space Station, pictured from a window on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour on Nov. 8, 2021.

The International Space Station, pictured from a window on the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour on Nov. 8, 2021.

Source: NASA

As joke videos go, it wasn’t very funny. Set to a bouncy Russian pop tune, the 57-second clip posted to Telegram on March 5 showed International Space Station cosmonauts hugging an American astronaut goodbye, climbing into the Russian segment of the ISS, undocking, and flying away, as Russian ground controllers gave a standing ovation.

What lent the ostensibly lighthearted clip a darker feel was the identity of the organization that made it—Roscosmos, Russia’s equivalent of NASA—and what the video implied would happen next. With the Russian portion of the station detached, the ISS would have no thrusters to maintain its orbit. The whole thing would be doomed to plunge to Earth. With a wink and a smile, Russia was suggesting it might kill the orbital outpost.