A few weeks ago, following Russia’s invasion of Crimea that caused worldwide turmoil, I wrote a piece about the potentially dangerous consequences to manned space flight. In the article, I argue that seeing how the US space program, like many other in the rest of the world for that matter, is heavily reliant on Russian space tech, NASA is placed in a delicate position where its current projects are threatened by a Russian squeeze. I envisioned that NASA might be bullied by Russia, who might cut access to Russian tech if the two fail to cooperate. The opposite has happened, NASA is the first to announce a cease of joint ventures between the two countries.
According to the Verge, the American space agency has suspended all contact with Russian government representatives. This includes travel to Russia, teleconferences, and visits by Russian government officials to NASA facilities. Even email exchanges between NASA and Russian authorities have been suspended. So what does this mean for NASA? Seeing how the agency decommissioned its shuttle service (is the US government regretting making this decision without a back-up?), there is no foreseeable means of ferrying American astronauts in space at least until 2017, when a private space venture will be appointed by NASA to carry such missions.
The top companies currently being discussed for such missions are SpaceX, United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Boeing. What does this mean for the International Space Station? Will the world’s most enduring collaborative space effort crumble into pieces? According to NASA, ongoing International Space Station activities are exempt from this suspension, but will Russia accept these terms? It may be unlikely for Russia to go along with this, getting pushed around and being asked for help only when most needed.
Here’s the internal NASA memo detailing the suspension.
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. NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station. 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. 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. With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017. 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. It’s that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.