Ukrainian dispute takes toll on space cooperation

5 Apr

A version of this article appeared on Saturday across the Sun Media chain.

Amid the ongoing dispute between Russia and the west over Ukrainian territory, the American government added their space agency to the list of government agencies prohibited from contacting Russian officials.

The International Space Station, which is the focus of NASA-Russian cooperation, is however exempt.

In a memo to employees, NASA Associate Administrator Michael O’Brien wrote, “This suspension includes NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or video conferences. At the present time, only operational International Space Station activities have been excepted.”

The internal memo was posted on the website NASAwatch.com

When asked for comment on the NASA-Russian relationship, the Canadian Space Agency provided the following statement: “While the Government views the current situation in the Ukraine with great concern, the Canadian Space Agency will continue to work with its Russian counterpart to ensure the safe and effective operation of the International Space Station.”

Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also offered his take on the impact of the international dispute on space agencies.

“Both Russia and the United States, and all international partners (including Canada,) have huge multifaceted programs going in all different areas at the same time.

“It would be great if everybody was always together on everything, but we surely aren’t. This isn’t the only area of dispute between nations. Canada and the U.S. have areas that we dispute all the time, and yet we cooperate on most things,” he told me in a conversation we had on March 21.

Currently, three Russian cosmonauts, two U.S. astronauts and one Japanese astronaut are living aboard the orbital outpost. The International Space Station orbits 400km above the surface of the Earth at a speed of 28,000km/h.

Hadfield continued to explain his wide perspective on the issue, “You remember that I used to intercept Soviet bombers in Canadian airspace in the late ‘80s (as a Canadian Air Force pilot), and in ‘95 I helped build the Russian space station (during Space Shuttle mission STS-74)”.

Hadfield has flown into space three times: in 1995, 2001, and most recently in 2012-2013.

His first two flights were aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle. His five month flight in ’12-13 was to the International Space Station, which utilized a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. His stint on board the station also included becoming the first Canadian to command the outpost in March 2013.

He also explained that the International Space Station program is not being driven by politics over a, “thousand-year-old dispute,” and called the orbiting laboratory, “a visible example of cooperation.”

In response to NASA’s decision to cut ties with Russian counterparts, Scott Pace, director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute told Reuters, “If we want to express our opposition to their actions I hope that we would choose other instruments.”

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One Response to “Ukrainian dispute takes toll on space cooperation”

  1. Chuck Black April 14, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    I think your article left out a lot of the details of what’s happening in Canada, Harrison.

    To learn more, I’d suggest taking a look at http://acuriousguy.blogspot.ca/2014/04/the-crimean-crisis-and-canadian.html.

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