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NASA Broke Up With Russia's Space Agency, Now What?

The United States has ended things between NASA and Russia's space agency. While the U.S. has yet to issue a Taylor Swiftian pop ballad about the breakup, a memo on the split did get leaked.

We can't say we didn't see this coming. Things have been, shall we say, tense between the two countries since Russia got involved in the Ukrainian mess (and subsequently annexed Crimea.) All this while it seemed like NASA had managed to stay above the political fray and we crossed our fingers that the two space programs wouldn't get caught in a Romeo and Juliet situation due to the increasingly cold relations between their respective parent countries. That ended on Wednesday when Associate Administrator Michael O'Brien sent out a memo announcing they were severing all contact between NASA and Roscosmos, indefinitely.

Here's the memo, published by Space Ref:

From: O'Brien, Michael F (HQ-TA000) Sent: Wednesday, April 02, 2014 9:33 AM To: [Deleted] Cc: [Deleted]

Subject: Suspension of NASA contact with Russian entities

Dear Colleagues,

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 meredith.mckay@nasa.gov, 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

Despite assurances last week that the goings-on between the U.S. and Russia would never have any implications for the space programs, the signs were there. At the same time everyone was reassuring each other about how diplomacy on Earth could never lead to problems in space, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden wrote a blog last week urging the U.S. to figure out how to start flying ourselves to space and to stop depending on the Russians for access to the International Space Station and space in general.

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At the International Space Station, where NASA is working with Russia, we currently have three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese astronaut all hanging out together. Hopefully, the Russians won't decide to counter NASA's move with some retaliation of their own -- if they decide to, let's say, cease flying all American astronauts on the Soyuz spacecraft there's no other way to get our astronauts home. It kind of drives home that old rule about how you've gotta dance with the one that brung you, especially when they brought you into outer space.

It's been a long time since the end of the Cold War and since it ended, the folks at NASA and Roscosmos have worked together in a way that would have seemed impossible back in the days of the space race.

Now, the U.S. and Russia aren't getting along, so NASA and Roscosmos have to stop hanging out too. Of course, the people working on the International Space Station are still speaking. These are the things that happen when you break one of the cardinal rules of breakups -- always get your stuff, or in this case your astronauts, back before having "the talk."

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