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Russian diplomat's tweet dooms the International Space Station

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 7:09am
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor

Lest you think Twitter breakups are just for the younger generation, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin let fly with a tweet that confused a lot of people on Tuesday.

Rogozin tweeted, “@fka_roscosmos doesn’t plan to continue cooperation with the US on the ISS after 2020” in response to questions about extending the date through which the ISS will operate from 2020 to 2024.

Rogozin, who spoke with reporters before sending out the tweet, had already made some noise about the subject.

According to NBC, Rogozin claims that, “Moscow was planning ‘strategic changes’ in its space industry after 2020 and aims to use money and ‘intellectual resources’ that now go to the space station for ‘a project with more prospects.’" So, that can only end well.  There has been a lot of bragging on the part of the deputy prime minister who claims that though the Russian part of the ISS can operate independently of the US, the reverse isn’t true. There has also been some squawking about future uses for Russia’s GPS.

The tweet itself is just one of many, er, not so diplomatic outbursts from Rogozin. The Russian diplomat recently suggested if NASA is serious about recent sanctions they could try using a trampoline to get to the moon, a reference to the fact that NASA uses Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get to and from the ISS.

The tweet—and trampoline threat—add an air of ridiculousness, but if Russia follows through with the plans, it will mean an end to a collaborative relationship that has survived despite the Cold War and a shaky earth-based relationship. In fact, the ISS was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its ability to exist regardless of the political ideals of the astronauts who reside there and the countries that fund the project.

The obvious catalyst for these actions is the recent crisis in Ukraine and subsequent political fallout from the US. Though NASA originally said nothing would affect the relationship, they subsequently released a memo halting all activities other than those directly involving the ISS. This isn’t a huge deal since that’s basically all the US and Russian work on together, but it’s a mostly symbolic gesture.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the recent tweet, NASA has no idea what the deal is. They haven’t received any official notice and released a statement Tuesday saying, “We have not received any official notification from Russia’s government regarding any change in our space cooperation. Ongoing safe operation of the International Space Station is expected to continue, including tonight’s return of the Expedition 39 crew and the expected launch of an Expedition 40 crew in two weeks. 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 13 consecutive years of continuous human presence onboard the ISS."

Glad that’s all cleared up.

It would be a shame if the current political climate were to greatly change the course of space history when the deadline is still six years away. Frankly, politics have no place in space.  Not to mention, the ISS is a 15-nation operation and not a Russia-US exclusive mission.  For now, the US is in a bit of an awkward position seeing as our space transportation won’t be ready for a few years and Russia is charging 60 million dollars for each American astronaut.

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