NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency have worked together for years in space, but that relationship may be radically changing as the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate.
The U.S. will suspend some space-related contact with Russia. However, the countries will continue working together on the International Space Station, where both American and Russian astronauts are currently living together.
NASA told Mashable that it will release a statement on the situation soon. However, below is the internal memo sent to NASA employees, which SpaceRef obtained. Michael O’Brien, who handles NASA’s international relations, sent this email early Wednesday.
From: O’Brien, Michael F (HQ-TA000)
Sent: Wednesday, April 02, 2014 9:33 AM
Subject: Suspension of NASA contact with Russian entities
Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s 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. If desired, our office will assist in communication with Russian entities regarding this suspension of activities. Specific questions regarding the implementation of this guidance can be directed to Ms. Meredith McKay, 202.358.1240 or firstname.lastname@example.org, in our office.
We remain in close contact with the Department of State and other U.S. Government departments and agencies. If the situation changes, further guidance will be disseminated.
Michael F. O’Brien
Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
It was only a few weeks ago that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Russia and the U.S. can often look beyond politics when it comes to operations in orbit.
“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.”
A new crew, which includes two Russian cosmonauts and NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, launched to the ISS on a Russian Soyuz rocket on March 25. With a now-defunct shuttle program, NASA’s only way of getting humans into space is via Russian rocket.
President Obama has repeatedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S. would take action if Russia invaded Ukraine. So far, Obama has approved sanctions against top Russian officials and supported a hefty aid package for Ukraine’s newly formed government. However, Obama has yet to commit any military involvement, and, at this point, it’s highly unlikely he’ll put American troops on the ground.
This latest move is an unexpected one as the two space agencies have been able to work together peacefully for years. Even Bolden, who reiterated in March that he wasn’t worried about the Ukraine situation as it pertains to NASA, worked in space with Russian cosmonauts just a few years after the Cold War.
The ISS, he noted, has been a cornerstone of peace between the two nations, able to operate above politics — a similar sentiment we’ve before from other astronauts. Canadian Commander Chris Hadfield, who has told Mashable in past interviews that politics doesn’t play a part in Russian-American relations in orbit because astronauts work as a team on the ISS, where survival takes priority.
Shortly after the news broke on Wednesday, Hadfield, who became a Twitter celebrity while he was in orbit last year, confirmed that NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency would still work together on the space station.