In an internal memo, NASA has stated that it will suspend all interaction with the Russian government, in response to Russia’s violations of Ukraine’s territorial independence. Fortunately for US astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steve Swanson, both currently orbiting on the International Space Station, the two agencies will still cooperate to transport supplies and personnel to and from the ISS.
As The Verge reports, the internal memo states that NASA will suspend all travel to Russia, email or telecommunication, and US visits by Russian government officials. In other words, all employee contact between NASA and Russian space officials is banned, so long as it doesn’t affect ISS operations. Such a move has been speculated since the turmoil over the Crimean territory began, but today gives our first indication they plan to act on it.
Currently, all personnel transported to the ISS travel on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. It’s been this way since the U.S.’s space shuttle program was shuttered in 2011, while NASA works with private companies like SpaceX to fast-track a US alternative to the Soyuz.
NASA administrator Charlie Bolden is not happy about the United States’ reliance on Russian spacecraft, a point he made very clear in a strongly worded blog post published the day US astronauts Mastracchio and Swanson boarded a Soyuz for the ISS.
So it’s lucky that the US and Russian agencies are so far continuing to cooperate on ISS missions. It sure would be nasty if the two agencies stranded the six people currently living on the ISS (three Russian, two American, one Japanese) during this political wrangling. Here’s an excerpt from the internal memo obtained by The Verge:
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.
We’ve reached out to NASA for comment and will report back with any updates.