April 2, 2014
NASA Suspends Space Contracts With Russia Due To Ukraine Crisis
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A month after Charles Bolden said NASA would closely monitor the situation between Russia and the Ukraine, the US space agency today announced it is severing ties with Russia due to the ongoing conflict.
In an interview with Mashable last month, Bolden noted that Russia and the US can often look beyond politics when it comes to operations in outer space.
"Right now everything is normal in our relationship with the Russians," Bolden said on March 4. "Since the International Space Station has been in orbit, it's very important to understand that started with a partnership between the United States and Russia. That partnership in space remains intact and normal."
NASA told its top officials today that Russia’s violations against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has left it no choice but to suspend contracts with the Russian government. According to an internal memo leaked to The Verge, the agency said the suspension includes travel to Russia, teleconferences and visits by Russian government officials to NASA facilities. The suspension also carries over to the cyber world, with all internet communication ceasing as well.
The suspension, however, does not carry over to the orbiting lab or with meetings with other countries held outside of Russia that include a Russian presence.
Today’s announcement was made official from Michael O’Brien, NASA’s associate administrator for International and Interagency Relations.
A NASA scientist, speaking on conditions of anonymity, told The Verge that the goals of the US space agency are not political in nature. “This is one of the first major actions I have heard of from the US government and it is to stop science and technology collaboration... You're telling me there is nothing better?”
As for the ISS, work will continue between the two countries for the upcoming launch of a Soyuz capsule on April 9.
American astronaut Reid Wiseman is also one of three crew members who plans to be aboard a Soyuz capsule that will tentatively launch on May 28 for the space station. He will be traveling with Russian cosmonaut Maksim Viktorovich Surayev and ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst.
The latest move by NASA is an unexpected one as NASA and Russia’s space agency have worked together peacefully for years. Even Bolden, who has been running the show at NASA for the past five years (appointed by President Obama), worked in space alongside Russian cosmonauts just a few years after the Cold War.
The extent of this contract suspension is unknown, yet because the US and Russia work extremely close in space-related research and activities, an extended suspension could have significant impacts for the future of space missions to the ISS as the US heavily relies on Russia to ferry astronauts to and from the orbiting lab. If the suspension eventually does extend to the ISS, it could be detrimental to America’s space program.
Here is the memo released by Michael O’Brien:
“Given Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine¹s sovereignty and territorial integrity, until further notice, the U.S. Government has determined that all NASA contacts with Russian Government representatives are suspended, unless the activity has been specifically excepted. This suspension includes NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian Government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences. At the present time, only operational International Space Station activities have been excepted. In addition, multilateral meetings held outside of Russia that may include Russian participation are not precluded under the present guidance.”