Will Friction On Earth Affect How The U.S. And Russia Work Together In Space?

NASA and Roscosmos’ partnership may look different in the near future.

In this Dec. 12, 2006 file photo made available by NASA, astronauts participate in a space walk during construction of the International Space Station.

A new Washington Post-ABC News Poll revealed more than two-thirds of Americans want tougher U.S. sanctions on Russia.


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This comes on the heels of a growing list of sanctions, and tit-for-tat moves between the two nations; which is helping to fuel political tension. Will growing U.S.- Russia political tensions affect collaboration in space?

"None of that appears to have had a direct bearing on the space industry, at least not yet," said Eric Berger, Senior Space Editor for Ars Technica. "NASA and the parent agency in Russia, Roscosmos, continue to have a very good working relationship."

But, Berger said, Russia could make a power-play in space if it wanted to, because it controls access to the International Space Station:



"There is some thinking that Russia may do something now, politically, while they still have quite a bit of power over NASA," Berger said. "Right now, The United States buys seats on Soyuz spacecraft to get astronauts to the International Space station. That financial arrangement works pretty well for the Russians. We pay $80 million per seat, for about six of those a year. So, that's almost a half a billion dollars in revenue that the Russian space agency gets right now."

But that could change soon, as Boeing and SpaceX gear up commercial space travel.

A U.S. made rocket also uses Russian engines, RD-180s, which critics have argued is a liability. This week, Russian lawmakers drafted a law threatening to stop supplying those engines, in response to "unfriendly actions" from the United States. There are reports Russia’s lower house of parliament is set to debate the bill on May 15.

This photo shows an Atlas V rocket, equipped with RD-180 engines, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on May 6, 2005.

In a previously e-mailed statement, a spokesman for NASA said the U.S.-Russia partnership remains strong in space.

The International Space Station is the blueprint for global cooperation – one that enables a U.S.-led multinational partnership and advances shared goals in space exploration. Space cooperation has been a hallmark of U.S.-Russia relations, including during the height of the Cold War, and most notably, in the past 17 consecutive years of continuous human presence on board the International Space Station with our Russian, Canadian, European and Japanese partners.

Berger said there's a long track record of the U.S. and Russia working well together in space.

"The truth is, while there have been lots of geopolitical forces pushing to two countries apart, one of the things that has held them together has been this cooperation in space," said Berger. "Hopefully that will continue, but that is by no means guaranteed."

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