NASA Suspends Ties With Russia’s Space Agency, Except For ISS

NASA is suspending all contact with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, citing Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, officials said Wednesday. However, work related to the safe and continued operation of the International Space Station is exempt from the suspension.

According to an internal memo obtained by SpaceRef, NASA has been added to the list of U.S. government agencies prohibited from making contact with Russian government officials. “This suspension includes NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian Government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences” NASA Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations Michael O’Brien wrote in the memo to employees.

In response to media reports, NASA released this statement Wednesday evening via their social media accounts:

“Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation. NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station. NASA is laser focused on a plan to return human spaceflight launches to American soil, and end our reliance on Russia to get into space. This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year. With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017. The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.”

NASA has relied on Russia to transport our astronauts to the International Space Station since the space shuttle was retired in 2011. The U.S. is currently paying Russia just over $70 million per seat to transport our astronauts to the ISS via a Soyuz rocket.

Plans for launching astronauts from U.S. soil have been delayed due to the failure of Congress to fully fund the Commercial Crew Program in recent years. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program aims to stimulate the development of privately operated crew vehicles capable of transporting astronauts into low-Earth orbit. Initially planned to begin launching crews from U.S. soil in 2015, it is now expected to begin no sooner than 2017.

Tell Congress that you support fully funding the Commercial Crew Program and that you want to end NASA’s dependence on expensive Soyuz trips:

Image Credit: NASA – Expedition 38 crew on the ISS on February 22, 2014.