NASA chief sees Russians and Americans together on space station through 2030

FILE PHOTO: ISS photographed by Expedition 56 crew members from a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking
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By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Tuesday condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, but said in Ottawa that he expected Russians and Americans to work together on the International Space Station (ISS) until it is decommissioned.

American-Russian space cooperation was put in doubt after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Yuri Borisov, the director-general of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, surprised NASA by announcing in July 2022 that Moscow intended to withdraw from the space station partnership "after 2024." A day later NASA said Roscosmos wanted to continue the partnership.

Nelson, who was in Ottawa to help showcase the Artemis II space mission including a Canadian astronaut, underscored the history of U.S. and Soviet collaboration in space during the Cold War, and said he expects it to continue amid the war in Ukraine.

"We are completely at odds with President Putin's aggression" that is "slaughtering people and invading an autonomous sovereign country," Nelson told Reuters in an interview in Ottawa.

But the collaboration aboard the ISS "continues in a very professional manner between astronauts and cosmonauts without a hitch. And I expect that to continue all the way through the end of the decade, when they we will then de-orbit the space station."

NASA has estimated it will begin de-orbiting the ISS in January 2031.

Launched in 1998, the ISS has been continuously occupied since November 2000 under a U.S.-Russian-led partnership that also includes Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.

The space station was born in part from a foreign policy initiative to improve American-Russian relations following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cold War hostility that spurred the original U.S.-Soviet space race.

The ISS arrangement, which has endured numerous strains over the years, has stood as one of the last links of civil cooperation as Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent relations between Washington and Moscow to a new post-Cold War low.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; editing by Jonathan Oatis)