I’ve expressed my fears that something like this might happen a few weeks ago when the first US sanctions hit the Russian government and its oligarchs, but all this time I was hoping that any political feuds may spare interfering with the International Space Station. Following the US government’s recent denial of export licences for hi-tech items that could help the Russian military, the Russian government responded by rejecting an US request to prolong the station’s use beyond 2020, and ban Washington from using Russian-made rocket engines to launch military satellites.
The International Space Station is one of the most beautiful collaborative efforts mankind has ever worked on together. More than just metal and technological ingenuity, the ISS also represents a powerful symbol – it’s the launchpad that will finally bring humanity among the stars. It’s also a powerful political statement: in space there are no borders. The brave men and women stationed on the ISS may not express any political vanities, but their leaders do.
Just when everybody thought the space race is dead and gone and cold war is long past behind us, this had to happen. We’re still at the infancy of this crisis, but come future escalations the world might find itself set back in terms of space exploration to where we were 20 years ago. Come again, the greatest leaps in space technology and research came out of the cold war period, but not for the noblest of reasons.
Besides refusing to prolong the station’s use beyond 2020, which let’s face it isn’t that bad since it’s six years away (waters might chill until then), the Russian government also announced suspending the operation of GPS satellite navigation system sites on its territory from June. Previously NASA announced it was cutting off contact with Russia because of the Ukraine crisis, with the exception of the space station. I found this funny in the first place since the Russians genuinely are at a much greater advantage than NASA.
First of all, NASA doesn’t have at the moment any shuttle or rocket program capable of sending its astronauts to space or the International Space Station. Since the shuttle program was retired in 2011, NASA has been using Russia’s Soyuz space ferrying program which runs at $65 million a seat. Secondly, a lot of the US government’s and US corporation’s military and commercial satellite launches are dependent on Russian tech, particularly rocket boosters.
“We are very concerned about continuing to develop hi-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicises everything,” said deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin at a news conference.
Rogozin said Moscow was planning strategic changes in its space industry after 2020 and aimed to use money and intellectual resources that now go to the space station for a project “with more prospects”.
What’s really interesting, and I hope it never come stop to this, is Rogozin’s statement that the ISS can do without the US, but not without Russia. Apparently, the Russian segment of the ISS can exist separately from the US one, but the US one can not.