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Russia says it will pull out of the International Space Station after 2024


Russia plans to end a U.S. partnership that's lasted more than 20 years. The head of its space agency says it'll leave NASA's International Space Station in 2024. NPR's Joe Palca reports.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Ever since the United States imposed sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine, relations between the two space agencies have been a bit frosty. Recently, NASA took the unusual step of rebuking Russia for using the International Space Station for political purposes after cosmonauts unfurled a flag that appeared to support the invasion. For its part, Russia has threatened on several occasions to end its participation in the ISS, as the space station is known.

LAURA FORCZYK: So this is not a new development. But it does seem to be a stronger announcement than we've seen before.

PALCA: That's Laura Forczyk, a space consultant with the firm Astralytical. Russia has provided key parts for the space station. Its modules provide the propulsion that keeps the station in the correct orbit. But the U.S. supplied the solar panels that provide power for the station.

FORCZYK: So the two sections of the ISS are so interconnected and rely on each other that it is very, very difficult to imagine a future where ISS can operate without the partners working together.

PALCA: But it's not as if the Russians are saying they're leaving tomorrow. Mariel Borowitz is at the Sam Nunn Center for International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

MARIEL BOROWITZ: In some ways, it's less dramatic than it sounds, you know? They're saying they're going to leave, but they're going to leave in 2024. And they're going to go through this process working with partners. So it's not an immediate, abrupt departure.

PALCA: So there's two years or so to figure out what to do.

Joe Palca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Palca has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. He is currently focused on the eponymous series, "Joe's Big Idea." Stories in the series explore the minds and motivations of scientists and inventors. Palca is also the founder of NPR Scicommers – A science communication collective.