The U.S.-Russia Fight Has Entered Space

NASA suspended communication on Wednesday with Russian government representatives.

The Soyuz TMA-12M rocket launches from Kazakhstan on March 26, carrying two Russian cosmonauts and one American astronaut to the International Space Station.
National Journal
Marina Koren
April 2, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

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.