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Russia to quit the ISS after 2024

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Russia announced today that after 2024, it would withdraw from its role in the International Space Station, the ISS. As NPR's Charles Maynes reports, that may signal the beginning of the end of U.S. and Russian cooperation in space.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: In a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, the newly appointed head of the Roscosmos space program, Yury Borisov, was clearly enjoying his visit to the Kremlin and the chance to make news.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YURY BORISOV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Russia would continue to meet its obligations to ISS partners for the next two years, Borisov told Putin before cameras. But the decision has been made. Russia was leaving the ISS in favor of building its own orbiting space station, said Borisov, a suggestion to which Putin responded, good.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Main engine start and liftoff.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The launch of a rocket carrying the first stage of the International Space Station.

MAYNES: The Russian and U.S. space agencies jointly launched the ISS back in 1998 as a symbol of newfound cooperation following the end of the Cold War and its accompanying space race. Even amid a fallout in relations over the conflict in Ukraine, cosmonauts and astronauts continued to share rides to the stars as early as March.

VITALY YEGOROV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Russian space analyst Vitaly Yegorov says it's in fact that image of Russians and Americans all hugs and smiles before and after missions that increasingly clashed with Russian domestic politics and propaganda that paint the U.S. as an enemy state.

YEGOROV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Russia's exit from the ISS is the culmination of those policies, says Yegorov. He calls the ISS the last thread that forced the U.S. and Russia to work together. Yegorov warns that while NASA can turn to new partnerships, the Kremlin's decision to go it alone risks now grounding would-be Russian space explorers. Roscosmos, he notes, has to overcome technological and financial hurdles that make launching a station by 2024 unlikely. But if there's hope, says Yegorov, it's in a chance the Kremlin might reconsider its decision before Russia hits the eject button on the ISS for good.

Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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