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Russia is Taking its War on the United States into Space

Russia is Taking its War on the United States into Space

Russian officials announced this week that as of 2020, Russia would oppose extending the International Space Station (ISS) project, a move designed to hurt the United States that could have serious repercussions for all of us.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told the press this week that Russia was now inclined to reject the U.S. proposal to extend the International Space Station project beyond its original 2020 deadline to 2024. This is largely being seen as retaliation against the United States for sanctions levied at Russia over Russia’s appearing to escalate violence and political unrest in the Ukraine.

“We are very concerned about continuing to develop high-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicizes everything,” Rogozin told a news conference this week.

The ISS effort has been as much a political statement as one of technological and human wonder, coming as it did after the Cold War and as a sign of Russian-US relations. The station, supported by a collaboration of 15 nations, cost $100 billion and is today manned by both Russian and U.S. crew. Russia’s suggested refusal to allow continuing the ISS effort says in no uncertain terms that the good times between the two superpowers are now over.

In addition to stonewalling an extension on the ISS, the Russian Prime Minister said that Russia will, as of June, no longer allow GPS satellite navigation system sites within its borders or territories. Washington had previously floated the idea of denying export licenses for technology that could help the Russian military as a response to Russia’s perceived agitating of the precarious Ukraine situation. The GPS block, then, is payment in kind for that. Furthermore, Russia will no longer allow for the export of its high-caliber engines to the United States if, that is, the U.S. is planning on using them for military operations.

The United States and Russia’s declining good space relationship has actually been deteriorating for a while, and mostly in stages that tally with its Earth-bound disputes. NASA has already cancelled most collaboration efforts with Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, and Canada too has pulled back on plans to launch satellites via the Soyuz rocket — this having been taken as a sign of support for the United States’ stand against Russia’s continuing human rights backslide.

Russia’s blocking of the ISS, though, is at best shortsighted and could seriously damage Russia’s own future data gathering and research efforts.

The Russian authorities contend they are thinking ahead to 2020 and that, after the deadline, they will move toward projects that they deem more promising. Rogozin’s comments here show how petulant relations have become, with him quoted as saying, “The Russian segment (of the Space Station crew) can exist independently from the American one. The US one cannot.” Technically that’s true for the moment, but not for long. The United States has already made provisions elsewhere and is working with transport firms to have new space vehicles (so-called space taxis) ready by 2017.

Yet, in pushing away the United States and risking relations with Europe, Russia leaves itself with only a few major allies. Critics believe that this so-called space war could backfire dramatically, but remember that at the moment this is all just hot-headed talk. Russia hasn’t actually done anything.

What really seems Russia’s point in this bold statement is a shot across the bow, not for the United States but for Europe, which so far has tenuous but still surviving relations with the Russian space agency.

Europe has backed the United States in its demands that Russia cease fanning tensions in the Ukraine and provoking civil unrest. Europe has also been vocal about Russia’s continued resistance to the human rights obligations it made as part of the EU. Russia is incredibly annoyed by all this, and one of the ways it perhaps has power to affect Europe is to flex its muscles with a threat of spurning further cooperation for space exploration. As we’ve noted above, the United States can and will carry on even if Russia does oppose it ever again having access to the ISS (which admittedly would still tarnish what was such a wonderful achievement for the world), but Europe’s position is more unsure working, as it is forced to, as a collective of many individuals countries all with their own priorities (and some of them suffering severe austerity measures).

It would of course be a double shame if this Russia-Europe-U.S. breakdown in relations was to impede space research and technological development, because the sector is particularly innovative. Most recently it has provided us with improved means of making the wheelchair-bound able to walk again, and technology that can help make air travel even safer. The entire argument also goes to show just how petty things appear to have become, even as violence escalates in the Ukraine.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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103 comments

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11:37AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Until there is food, clothing, and shelter for all, there will be war.

4:50AM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

So we fight and argue and kill.. Carl Sagan said it best when he saw a picture of the earth from outer space:

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds."

4:47AM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

Tim
You are so right.
Evolution has forgotten the human race

4:37AM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

President Kennedy would be appalled that we have surrendered in the space race!

6:20AM PDT on May 27, 2014

"What a piece of work is Man. How like a God." There is something drastically wrong with our species. We are terribly defective. Human history proves over and over that we can't get along with each other or any living being. We kill and destroy. That is what we do We may as well have the big war and destroy all life on this planet once and for all, because that's what we keep heading toward.

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but Wortld War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." ~ Albert Einstein

10:19AM PDT on May 20, 2014

Russia, telling us you will do something in 2020, when we will have alternative ways to get up there... is not a very good threat.

2:16PM PDT on May 18, 2014

Lori H . sorry but man has been moving backward since he arrived on this poor , ill used planet . with no real signs of bothering to change .

2:14PM PDT on May 18, 2014

sorry bruce c d if you think there will ever be free elections when someone has to stand by with a gun , sorry that's not my idea of free . and why is Russia even involved in the first place ? and please spare me the crap about the russian speaking ukrainians .if it's truly a democracy you vote and except what happens . not run to your big neighbor and whine and cry about how hard done by you feel .if they don't want to be ukrainians then move to russia and become russians but don't destroy the country just because you can't have your own way .

8:50PM PDT on May 17, 2014

So very sad things have come to this, mankind takes one big step backwards

10:02AM PDT on May 17, 2014

Noted

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