Ground Control to Major Tom – “lock your Soyuz hatch and put your helmet on”.  When NASA astronaut, Chris Hadfield, recorded his version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station, it was his farewell tribute to the scientific miracle which remains one of humanity’s greatest achievements. For a brief period this week though, his words seemed prophetic as Russia announced it would pull out of the joint project “after 2024”. Without Russia, the ISS may not be viable. It might be time to “lock the Soyuz hatch’” and, with the story connected to the Ukraine crisis, it would be difficult to open it again.

For 24 hours space experts explained that, without the Russian controlled propulsion system providing regular boosts, the station would fall out of orbit. Alternatives would have to be found and that would be slightly more complicated than nipping down to Halfords for a new part. Happily, the Russian space agency Roscosmos “clarified” its statement: In fact, it intends to remain a partner until its own space station is built and that could take until 2028.