Valeriy Tokarev was the second Russian cosmonaut to visit the International Space Station (ISS), travelling there on a NASA Discovery shuttle in 1999 for the first ever docking with the space station. Six years later, he returned for a longer mission and spent more than six months on board.
In both launches, he was the only Russian crew member, an experience that has given him an international outlook. Fifteen years later, the Mir became the first modular space station. A primarily Russian project, it welcomed many international crews in its lifespan of more than 15 years.
Half a century ago, the Soviet Union was the first country to send a space station – Salyut 1 – into orbit back in 1971. As decades went by, such endeavors became more collaborative, culminating in the ISS.
Russia has been a pioneer in the field of space stations for decades. Tokarev worked closely with American and Canadian astronauts on both of his missions. That period was the heyday of international cooperation in space.
It has plans to build its own modular space station which Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said would stay in orbit permanently. Now, Russia is considering withdrawing from the ISS altogether.
Tokarev says the high price tag of space endeavor is another reason that countries should work together. He recently told a Russian newspaper, “We want to design open architecture, when one module that has used up its service life can be replaced by another one. This station could eternally stay in orbit, gradually and smoothly replacing its spent elements.” There are still many hurdles for the Russian space agency before such a project can be realized, not least securing sufficient funding.
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