Wednesday, April 02, 2014

NASA cuts ties with the RSA

I don't understand what this really means. According to NASA's PR guy:
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.
The Russian space program runs mostly out of Baikonur in Kazakhstan. So maybe that's a loophole, as it would still permit  NASA officials to travel to the Baikonur Cosmodrome without "travel[ing] to Russia" or having Russian representatives visit any NASA facilities.

And of course the ISS is excepted. NASA's activities in the ISS is currently dependent entirely upon the Russian Space Agency. Since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011, NASA does not have any space vehicles in active service capable of transporting people to and from orbit. The only way to get its astronauts to and from the ISS these days is with a Russian Soyuz rocket. There are currently two NASA astronauts on the ISS, who would be stranded there unless NASA coordinated with the RSA to get them home.

It's hard to see this move by NASA as anything but a big mistake. It would have been much better for both that agency and the international space effort if NASA had stuck to its tradition of keeping politics out of its dealings with the RSA. That's especially true right now, when NASA is dependent upon the RSA for ferrying its astronauts to and from orbit. While NASA's decision to exempt the ISI from its boycott would initially address that concern, what is to stop the RSA from retaliating? In fact, such a public announcement practically invites some kind of retaliatory move on the part of the Russians. Why would NASA invite retaliation from the RSA at a time that it is dependent upon the RSA to get two of its people back to Earth safely?