Thursday, 3 April 2014

NASA suspends cooperation with Russia for non-ISS issues because of Crimean crisis

NASA announced on 2 April the suspension of its cooperation with Russian government representatives, save for issues related to the International Space Station, owing to the “ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

NASA’s announcement came after a leaked memo with the same content. According to the memo, the suspension includes NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian Government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences. However, cooperation regarding ISS is not affected. Moreover, participation of NASA officials to multilateral scientific congresses outside the Russian territory will also be permitted.

Given that the interagency US-Russian cooperation focuses on the ISS, NASA’s move has been regarded as rather symbolic. This is underlined by Charles Bolden’s, NASA’s administrator, previous comments on the flawless cooperation concerning the ISS for 13 consecutive years, despite occasional political tension due to other crises.

Currently NASA relies on Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to transport US astronauts to the ISS, which costs NASA up to $70 million per astronaut trip. NASA has been deprived of its own human space transportation capability after the Space Shuttle retired. Therefore the Agency is currently funding the development of space vehicles of private US companies. However, such vehicles are not expected to become operational before 2017.

In this regard, it is noteworthy the criticism to Congress expressed in the NASA announcement, which highlights the polarized political situation in the US. NASA is a governmental agency, thus sympathetic to Democrats, whereas US Congress is controlled by Republicans. NASA’s announcement accuses Congress of the Agency’s meager funding, which has led to a two-year delay in the development of an autonomous US space human transportation capability.  

See more here and here.

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