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Russia Aims To Quit International Space Station After 2020

Since the end of the U.S. space shuttle program, Russian Soyuz spacecraft have been the only way to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). (file photo)
Three crew members have returned to Earth after spending half a year aboard the International Space Station (ISS), as Russia raises questions about the future of the orbiting laboratory.

A Soyuz space capsule carrying Russian Mikhail Tyurin, American Rick Mastracchio, and Koichi Wakata of Japan landed on May 14 on the steppes of Kazakhstan, about 150 kilometers southeast of the city of Zhezqazghan.

They had spent 188 days on the space station, which is orbiting some 418 kilometers above the Earth.

Moscow’s regional Mission Control Center said the astronauts had received a medical examination at the landing site and that "all spacemen are feeling well."

Three crew members remain aboard the ISS.

Three more are to launch for the station on May 28.

The landing comes less than a day after Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Moscow doesn't intend to use the ISS after 2020.

He said Russia will present details this summer on redirecting space resources after that date.

The May 13 announcement came amid tensions over Ukraine and the sanctions imposed by the United States on Russian officials.

Rogozin said Moscow is alarmed about continuing high-tech projects with "an unreliable partner" that is "politicizing everything." He said Russia’s space station segment "can exist independently" but that the American segment cannot exist "without the Russian one."

NASA says it has not been notified by Russia about any planned changes in space cooperation.

The United States has relied on Russian Soyuz capsules to fly to and from the ISS since the U.S. space agency retired its space shuttle fleet.

NASA hopes that private companies will be able to develop rockets and capsules to fly astronauts to the space station within a few years.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and Interfax