Thursday, April 3, 2014

NASA's Russian suspension

Space fallout from the Ukraine crisis: NASA is suspending most of its collaboration with the Russian government. From The Verge:
Citing Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereign and territorial integrity, NASA told its officials today that the agency is suspending all contact with Russian government representatives. In an internal NASA memorandum obtained by The Verge, the agency said that the suspension includes travel to Russia, teleconferences, and visits by Russian government officials to NASA facilities. NASA is even suspending the exchange of emails with Russian officials.
One NASA scientist had a complaint:
"NASA's goals aren't political," said a NASA scientist who spoke to The Verge on condition of anonymity. "This is one of the first major actions I have heard of from the US government and it is to stop science and technology collaboration... You're telling me there is nothing better?"
My comment: "NASA's goals aren't political" is a factually and historically incorrect statement. A great deal of NASA activity has been highly political, driven first by the Cold War priority of beating the Russians and then by the (perceived as less urgent) post-Cold War priority of cooperating with the Russians. Now that we're in the post-post-Cold War era, finding some leverage against the Putin regime strikes me as a perfectly reasonable thing for the space agency to do. If this gives the U.S. some momentum in developing its own near-Earth capabilities, that's even better.

Anatoly Zak, Russian emigre and space maven and my friend from long-ago days, wrote in early March about space as a bargaining chip for the U.S., contending plausibly that in the long run "Russia needs NASA more than NASA needs Russia." Now that proposition is starting to be put to the test.

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