There once was a dream, conceived during the chilliest depths of the Cold War, that science could overcome the systematic differences that divided the planet. From that dream, the International Space Station was born. That same shining beacon of hope and friendship between nations is now in the crosshairs of more terrestrial concerns, and the head of the Russian space program is gleefully loading the sniper rifle.
Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Roscosmos, has been burning through a lot of Russia’s good will in the scientific community by feuding with a former astronaut, stopping experiments on the ISS between cosmonauts and other nations, taking international flags off of rockets, putting the Ukraine invasion symbols on vehicles around the Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan, and tweeting an artist rendering of what it would look like if the Russian module of the ISS detached.
First, this video, which is wild. NASA Watch caught this video from Rogozin that was posted on — where else — Telegram, and retweeted it over the weekend.
It certainly seems like a threat. But you know what’s more of a threat? The actual threats Rogozin has made in regards to the ISS. Back in February, in response to U.S. sanctions against Russia, Rogozin tweeted, “If you block cooperation with us, who will save the ISS from an uncontrolled deorbit and fall into the United States or Europe?”
This is very much a direct threat because, as Vox points out, Russia controls the ISS propulsion control systems:
Russia controls critical aspects of the space station’s propulsion control systems. While the ISS is in orbit, Earth’s gravity gradually pulls it toward the atmosphere, so the space station typically uses a propulsion module — which is controlled by Russia — to keep it in place. Without these regular boosts, though, the ISS would very slowly fall toward the atmosphere, where it would mostly burn up. The astronauts aboard would likely have plenty of time to escape the space station and travel back to Earth. But some of us might not be as lucky: a number of heavy components that make up the ISS could survive the atmosphere and fall to the Earth’s surface, where, without control over the ISS’s deorbit, they could hit structures or kill people.
Also over the weekend, Rogozin said Russia would stop supplying rockets to the U.S. and stop servicing rocket engines already in use, Reuters reports, saying American’s could “fly on their broomsticks.” A turn of phrase which delighted Elon Musk.
Rogozin spends a lot of time on social media making his boss/leather daddy President Putin happy with his big mouth. Also last week, Rogozin feuded with former astronaut Scott Kelly on Twitter after Rogozin removed the flags of countries that are providing support and aid to Ukraine. Rogozin tweeted: “The launchers at Baikonur decided that without the flags of some countries, our rocket would look more beautiful.”
“Dimon, without those flags and the foreign exchange they bring in, your space program won’t be worth a damn. Maybe you can find a job at McDonald’s if McDonald’s still exists in Russia,” Kelly tweeted back.
Vehicles hauling around Soyuz rockets to the launch pad at the Cosmodrome now bear the infamous V or Z of the invading Russian forces.
I don’t think the ISS is in any real danger. NASA and Roscosmos have worked together through periods of tension before. And Rogozin is known for making bombastic statements to please Putin. Being a complete toddy may be why, despite being bad at his job, he receives huge raises and bonuses every year. Still, it’s heartbreaking to see the era of human cooperation in space coming to a close. Who could trust Russia to be a partner in the delicate business of space exploration after this? But as space is turned into both a commercial investment as well as a military one, the shift was inevitable. At least for a few decades, we had the dream.