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Dangerous New Lows In NASA-Russian Collaboration: Will we cede the Space Station High Ground to Russia?

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STS-134_International_Space_Station_after_undockingOn the Crimean Peninsula, Russia writes the rules because they control the territory. They control who goes in and who goes out. Anyone who wants access to the Crimea can only do so if Russia allows it. You might have a treaty that says it is not supposed to be that way, but the fact is, Russia is in charge because they control all access.

Now consider the International Space Station. Nations around the globe participated it creating this wonder, it is truly international. But as you can imagine, the US has a great investment in the ISS. But guess what, we don’t control access to the ISS. Who does? Russia. Russia can easily decide who goes up and who comes down. If they wanted to get brutal about it they could decide who lives and who dies. We might have treaty and agreement that spells out what is supposed to happen, but just like in the Ukraine, what will really happen there is what Russia wants to happen.

In all my military years I was taught that “hope is not a strategy.” But now we seem to be left with hope as the last option for the US role in space. We hope Russia will continue to support American space launches.  We hope they will allow us to return our astronauts safely. We hope they will keep the ISS an international platform vice declaring it unilaterally their territory. I hope I don’t sound too flippant here, but seems like they could send a few more Russians up and then take a vote of all onboard and declare the ISS is now a Russian territory.

Why am I hitting on this topic now?

The website SpaceRef.com just published a NASA memo spelling out a big downturn in relations with the Russians. It is quoted below:

From: O’Brien, Michael F (HQ-TA000)
Sent: Wednesday, April 02, 2014 9:33 AM
To: [Deleted]
Cc:  [Deleted]

Subject: Suspension of NASA contact with Russian entities

Dear Colleagues,

Given Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, until further notice, the U.S. Government has determined that all NASA contacts with Russian Government representatives are suspended, unless the activity has been specifically excepted.  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.  In addition, multilateral meetings held outside of Russia that may include Russian participation are not precluded under the present guidance.  If desired, our office will assist in communication with Russian entities regarding this suspension of activities.  Specific questions regarding the implementation of this guidance can be directed to Ms. Meredith McKay, 202.358.1240 or [email protected], in our office.

We remain in close contact with the Department of State and other U.S. Government departments and agencies.  If the situation changes, further guidance will be disseminated.

Obie

Michael F. O’Brien

Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

When pushed for clarification, NASA posted a short, pissy little note that drones on about how it is not their fault that we can’t launch people into space. That doesn’t give me a sense of confidence at all.

I do have a thought that does give some cause for optimism. Design spaces for the SpaceX “Dragon” indicate that it was designed for more than just cargo. It has a pressurized section that can be used for humans. Thank you Elon Musk for the foresight. With NASA seemingly abdicating all leadership in this area, we may need to turn to SpaceX to get Americans to the ISS (or perhaps to rescue them in a strategic retreat if the Russians decide to kick us off).

 

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.