A veteran astronaut says the ISS crew don’t dwell on politics, as Russia warns sanctions could ‘destroy’ its cooperation with the US over the station

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  • Astronaut Peggy Whitson discussed whether conflicts on Earth affect the crew on the ISS. 
  • Whitson said she’s been asked about tensions between US and Russian astronauts aboard the ISS. 
  • Astronauts don’t usually clash because, in space, everyone’s life depends on each other, she said. 

Does politics impact astronauts living in space? 

There are currently four NASA astronauts, two Russian cosmonauts, and one European astronaut aboard the International Space Station. Following the invasion of Ukraine, tensions between the West and Russia are high.

The chief of Russian space agency Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, warned that sanctions against Russia could “destroy our cooperation on the ISS.”

Roscosmos announced it would stop supplying rocket engines to the US. Rogozin said on state-run TV: “In a situation like this, we can’t supply the United States with our world’s best rocket engines. Let them fly on something else, their broomsticks, I don’t know what.”

Russia has also announced it will stop cooperating with Germany on ISS projects in retaliation to the new sanctions. 

But in an interview with Insider, Peggy Whitson, who serves as commander of Axiom Space’s Ax-2 mission, the second-ever private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, said crew members are used to leaving politics behind. 

Whitson, who has set spent the most cumulative time aboard the ISS — 665 days — of any US astronaut or any woman in the world, said when astronauts are in space, there doesn’t tend to be a lot of conflict. 

She said: “I’ve had a lot of people ask me, is there a problem aboard the space station between the Russian and the US crew members?”

In response, she said she reminded people that this is an “international” space station.

“People are used to leaving the politics and the religion behind because, when you’re in space, you become part of a space culture where my life depends on you and your life depends on me,” she added.

“We’re in it together and so there doesn’t tend to be a lot of conflict on orbit because of that,” she continued. “The stuff that is happening on the ground is happening on the ground.”

That is not to say rifts between astronauts will never happen in the future, Whitson noted. But in general, “that is not the philosophy of crew members,” she said. 

Whitson also said that Russia’s attack on Ukraine should stimulate more engine development in the US.

“We do rely on Russian engines a bit more than I think we should, more than is ideal,” Whitson said.

Though other parties, including SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, have “very successful” engine systems, Whitson said “additional types” were needed.