At the beginning of April, NASA was directed to sever bonds with Russia except for continued coöperation on the International Space Station (ISS). The directive includes ceasing all communications between those in the scientific communities. With the exception of issues regarding the ISS, there is to be no teleconferences, meetings, or emails between the parties. This directive comes about as fallout from the Russian annexing of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula. Yesterday however, a debate over NASA breaking all ties with Russia was heard by a U.S. Senate panel.
Susan Eisenhower, an adviser for NASA, spoke out against the sanctions. She is the granddaughter of former President Eisenhower who, at the start of the Cold War, founded NASA. Eisenhower indicates that ending space coöperation would not only be counterproductive to the space agenda in the United States, but could be damaging to the security of the nation as well. The new restrictions encompass all communications between NASA and Roscosmos in regard to anything unrelated to the ISS. Currently, there are six people living aboard the station. Three of the current residents are Russian cosmonauts, two are NASA astronauts and the other is an astronaut from Japan.
Eisenhower continued to debate the restrictions and stated that some issues may not have a simple designation. She indicated that it is more than possible that some work may have multiple applications and fall under the umbrella of the ISS while not being directly or currently related. One of her examples included the idea of space emergencies. After pointing out that a space emergency which impacts communities beyond the operations of the station is possible she may have given some officials things on which to think. One NASA official who heard the debate conceded that a point was made but that no change over the policy on breaking of the ties with Russia would be considered at this point. The officials stated that the safety of ISS has not changed and that there is still a strong and effective relationship between NASA and Roscosmos in the daily operations of the station.
In the past three decades, a close relationship between Roscosmos and NASA has been built. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia joined the program for the International Space Station. Since then, the station has come almost to completion after U.S. spending of over $100 billion. A recent long-range plan for the outpost has been approved which while see operations through at least 2024. At the present time, the operation of the International Space Station is dependent on the cooperation of all nations involved. In fact, both the United States and Russia are mutually dependent upon each other. NASA retired their fleet of space shuttles in 2011 and relies upon the Russian Soyuz capsules to ferry the astronauts. The Russians rely on the flight controllers and gyroscopes at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in order to keep the station oriented without using rocket fuel. Additionally, both sides share the burden of keeping the station supplied and maintaining critical life support systems.
While an exception to policy has been made regarding the work on the International Space Station, the current directive is for NASA is to sever communications in all other areas. The debate which was heard at the senate over NASA breaking ties with Russia did not result in any policy changes at the current time. The cosmonauts and the astronauts will continue to work and live together aboard the ISS and the scientific communities on Earth will also continuing working toward the same goal. In the meantime, NASA will cease sharing information and communications with their Russian counterparts.
By Dee Mueller
on twitter @TuesdayDG