NASA says it will be suspending some contact with Russia. The exception, of course, are flights to the International Space Station. Since the space shuttle program retired in 2011, U.S. astronauts get rides into orbit aboard Russian Soyuz rockets, for $70 million a seat.
The agency told its officials yesterday morning that it's suspending all contact with Russian government representatives -- citing Russia’s “ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” In the internal NASA HQ memo obtained by The Verge, the suspension includes: travel to Russia, tele- and videoconferences, emails, and visits by Russian representatives to NASA facilities. Work with the ISS will continue, as well as meetings held outside of Russia with other countries that include Russia’s participation. This comes from Michael O'Brien, associate administrator for International and Interagency Relations.
Last night, NASA issued a statement, confirming that the agency is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation, but will continue to work with Roscosmos on ISS operations. It also adds how Congress failed to increase the agency's funding. Here’s an excerpt:
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.
NASA’s current budget is just under $18 billion, and it's likely underfunded as it is. Still, the move has been called “a manipulative money grab” that leverages the crisis in Ukraine. As recently as a few weeks ago, officials expressed optimism about the Russian-American partnership, with NASA administrator Charles Bolden saying: “Right now, everything is normal in our relationship with the Russians.”
"NASA's goals aren't political," a NASA scientist told The Verge on condition of anonymity. "This is one of the first major actions I have heard of from the U.S. government and it is to stop science and technology collaboration… You're telling me there is nothing better?"
There are currently two America astronauts aboard the ISS. And it’s unclear how much non-ISS contact U.S. has with Russia: There is a Venus mission, as well as work on potentially hazardous near-Earth space bodies.
Image: NASA/Carla Cioffi