This fact check examines the origin and authenticity of the statement “Russia abandons International Space Station: It could fall on Europe!“, made on April 3rd in an article published by the Spanish daily sport newspaper Marca. The article says that Russia has ended its cooperation with Western countries regarding the International Space Station and allows it to crash into Earth. The claim turns out to be mostly true but misleading.
The entire article is based on statements made by Russian space chief Dmitry Rogozin in Twitter posts, which were found to have been quoted correctly after translation into English from Russian. What makes us question the veracity of the statements is the fact that they sound very extreme and categorical, and their consequences would be of very broad societal significance. Moreover, the article offers a generalized one-sided view, lacking a justification of the facts as well as information that would be relevant for a good understanding of the overall situation. Marca does not cite its primary sources – this applies to both the textual information and the attached image. In addition, the author of the article is introduced only by his first name, which further reinforced our doubts. This fact check therefore examines the authenticity of the following statements.
The first sentence of the article states that Russia has already completed its cooperation with the International Space Station. The claim that Russia has withdrawn from the International Space Station sounds like a fact that has already happened. We followed the data to Dmitry Rogozin’s Twitter account, which reads as follows: “In the context of the announced sanctions, Roscosmos will reconsider its priorities and focus on achieving full independence from the import of space equipment. The main design, technological and financial resources released by joint ventures with the US and the EU.”
In the course of the analysis of the article, we found a publication from the American daily newspaper New York Times, which expresses an opinion on the termination of cooperation between Russia and Western countries regarding the International Space Station. According to it, this is yet to happen as a proposal from the head of the Russian Space Agency. In his statements on social networks, Dmitry Rogozin did not specify when exactly he would like Russia to end its participation in the ISS. For its part, Roscosmos’ main partners, NASA, say the agreement between NASA, Russia and other countries participating in the space station program is valid until 2024. But the United States is seeking to extend this period until 2030. Katie Luders, associate NASA’s space operations administrator said recently that discussions were ongoing. NASA is also working on other agreements with Russia. Ms Luders said NASA was still awaiting a review of an agreement from Russia that would allow some Russian astronauts to ride on future US rockets, and some NASA astronauts would continue to launch with Russia’s Soyuz rocket.
While Russia’s intentions are real, we have found no information confirming a final refusal of cooperation.
The article’s statement with the most important and public meaning is that the International Space Station could plunge towards Earth. According to the American technology news website The Verge, there is some truth in Rogozin’s words. NASA does rely on Russian propulsion to help control the International Space Station’s attitude, or position and orientation in space, and periodically boost the station on its orbit around Earth. 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 burnup. “If the Russians walk away, then you’ve got this massive object that’s going to come back in randomly somewhere over the Earth.” Wayne Hale, former program manager of NASA’s Space Shuttle and a member of NASA’s Advisory Council, tells The Verge. However, such a scenario would take quite a while to manifest, possibly giving NASA some time to devise an alternate solution. “It’s not like a week, it’ll probably be several years”, says Hale.
Moreover, the Russians heavily rely on NASA to keep the space station active, too. NASA also helps to control the space station’s position in orbit, and the space agency is solely responsible for generating electricity for the entire vehicle. When it comes to the ISS, the NASA and Roscosmos relationship is a symbiotic one, and either party leaving would spell trouble. Without Russia, NASA would have to engineer a new solution to help keep the station on the right path in space, so that the vehicle does not slowly fall out of orbit and enter Earth’s atmosphere.
Based on our research and general attitudes, we can say that Rogozin is known for his bombastic statements which is also highlighted in an article in Space, a specialist media outlet for exploration, innovation and astronomy news that strives for maximum objective coverage: “the Russian space chief is a blustery figure with a history of hyperbolic statements”.
What’s more, regarding Vox’s article, destroying the space station isn’t necessarily to Russia’s advantage, either. Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, may not want to take the risk of an uncontrolled deorbit, even if the ISS doesn’t normally travel over much of Russia. And then there’s the fact that Roscosmos also depends on NASA, and has a long history of working with the US, even through periods of tension. This is the nature of the ISS’s founding partnership, which is now more than two decades old.
The article also claims that an American astronaut and two Russian astronauts landed safely in Kazakhstan last Wednesday after leaving the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule. We found the statement to be true after looking at various sources that prove its authenticity. The main source was a recording of a video broadcast live by NASA, which was published by the Reuters news agency on March 30, 2022. The video shows that an American astronaut and two Russian astronauts are successfully returning home from the International Space Station.
In conclusion, we would say that the statements in the article are mostly true, although their original sources are not cited clearly and in sufficient detail. To verify the facts, we referred to numerous sources, and the primary source of information is the publication from Space.com – a specialized media outlet that we believe strives for the most objective coverage of news in the field of exploration, innovation and astronomy. The main claims in the article that are so bombastic turn out to be unsubstantiated – there is a deliberate search for sensationalism, which is evident from the title itself. What makes us doubt the veracity of the information is the lack of various points of view and especially NASA’s position. Rogozin’s Twitter posts have been quoted correctly, and the additional information in the article is also correct, but as the analysis makes clear, the substance of his statements is misleading.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Antonia Tomova, Desislava Kyoseva, Monica Petrova, Polina Mihailova – Sofia University
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