Tensions between Russia and the United States have reached astronomical proportions.
NASA has suspended contact with Russian government representatives, The Verge reports, citing Russia's intervention in Ukraine. Arielle Duhaime-Ross writes:
In an internal NASA memorandum obtained by The Verge, NASA said that the suspension includes travel to Russia, teleconferences, and visits by Russian government officials to NASA facilities. NASA is even suspending the exchange of emails with Russian officials....
"NASA's goals aren't political," said a NASA scientist who to spoke The Verge on condition of anonymity. "This is one of the first major actions I have heard of from the U.S. government and it is to stop science and technology collaboration.... You're telling me there is nothing better?"
NASA confirmed the suspension in a statement Wednesday night.
"Given Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation," a spokesman said. Operations aboard the International Space Station, which is a wholly collaborative effort between the two nations, are exempt from this suspension.
Just last week, a trio of astronauts, including two Russians and one American, launched into space on a Russian rocket, headed for the International Space Station. Without a shuttle program of its own, NASA depends on Russians to ferry its astronauts to and from the station, and pays them $70.7 million per seat. The U.S. space agency is working with private American companies to develop rockets and break out of Russia's transportation monopoly.
"NASA is laser-focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space," Wednesday night's statement read. "This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration's for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches—and the jobs they support—back to the United States next year."
Last week, NASA chief Charles Bolden blamed Congress for cutting the space agency's budget, keeping Americans reliant on Russian technology.
"The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians," the statement continued. "It's that simple."
The U.S. and Russia first collaborated in space in July 1975, when a Soviet Soyuz capsule carrying two cosmonauts docked with a U.S. Apollo module carrying three astronauts. In the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. asked Russia to join its work on the International Space Station.
Last week, the situation was much rosier. NASA was "confident that our two space agencies will continue to work closely as they have throughout various ups and downs of the broader U.S.-Russia relationship." NASA's relationship with Roscomos, the Russian federal space agency, had previously withstood the conflict in Syria and Russia's protection of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. "It doesn't appear that we are affected by what's going on diplomatically with the Russians," Al Sofge, director of NASA's human exploration and operations division, said in December. "I don't know that we've ever even discussed it."
Looks like the Ukraine crisis is different.