The Future of the International Space Station

Image(Credit): Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter approaching the International Space Station (NASA).

Over the weekend, the Washington Post published an editorial by Homer Hickam, former NASA engineer and advisor to the National Space Council, titled, “Our space partnership with Russia can’t go on.” In the piece, Mr. Hickam argues that the International Space Station (ISS) has accomplished its goals and the US can now move onto other projects without the Russians:

With our flourishing commercial space companies, who are already cutting metal on their own future space stations, plus our federal government’s Artemis moon program, the United States is entering a new golden age of space exploration. The Russians, meanwhile, are stuck in the past with antiquated spacecraft and nowhere to go except the ISS.

Mr. Hickam appears to believe pushing out the Russians may mean the end of the ISS. Of course, this is just one man’s view, and whatever we do we need to do it in conjunction with our other ISS partners.

We could continue to maintain the ISS through 2030, as planned, and schedule more useful science even without the Russians as partners. This may make sense until we have another viable station that we can use, such as NASA’s planned lunar Gateway. Russia will not be part of the Gateway given that it is working with China on other lunar plans, so we do not need to worry about another breakup.

It would be better if Russia had focused on its space accomplishments rather than territorial ambitions as it prepares for the future. Joint space programs are a great way to use rockets for peaceful missions. I am not against a space race that pushes us even farther into space, yet I would prefer it be fueled by scientific achievement rather than nationalist angst.

Image(Credit): Artist rendering of the Artemis lunar Gateway (NASA).