Great, Russia Just Banned The U.S. From Space In The Latest Tug-Of-War Over Sanctions
If you were wondering how far Putin would go in his feud against the U.S., we have the answer: Space. In a response to the recent sanctions placed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, Russian officials announced Tuesday that Russia is banning the U.S. from the International Space Station after the year 2020. Russia will also bar the U.S. from launching military satellites via rocket engines.
The newly-imposed sanctions will end the amicable space relationship between the U.S. and Russia, which developed after the Cold War. Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin declared the U.S. sanctions on export licenses for high-technology items were "inappropriate" and could seriously harm Russia's space program, which is why the country is striking back. "We are very concerned about continuing to develop hi-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicizes everything," Rogozin said in a news conference. Ouch.
Rogozin added that Russia will still supply the U.S. with the rocket engines, but on the condition that they're not used to launch military satellites.
Can Russia really ban the U.S. from space? While it's not necessarily a traditional ban, it can certainly block the U.S. from the galaxy: Although the ISS is managed by both Russian and American astronauts, the modular satellite is only accessible from a Russian Soyuz spacecraft because the U.S. ended its shuttle program in 2011.
It currently costs more than $50 million to fly an American astronaut into space with Russia's help, and that price is expected to rise to $70 million in 2016. Russia agreed to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the ISS until 2017.
Although the U.S. is currently without workable shuttles, NASA wanted to hold onto the space station until 2024. Because Russia will now reject any request from the U.S. to prolong the use of the ISS, this could throw a wrench into the increasing tenuous future of American space exploration.
While NASA is currently working on a new program for human spaceflight, the Commercial Crew Program, there's already been some setbacks. The inaugural launch of its homegrown crew spaceship was scheduled for 2015, but had to be postponed until 2017 due to congressional budget cuts. Although, a House Appropriations subcommittee voted in April to fund the $785-million program, the spacecraft still may not be ready until 2017.
But as the program is still short of its target funding goal —$848 milion under the Obama administration — American astronauts are most likely going to be reliant on the Russians for quite some time. This reliance worried many NASA engineers as tensions began brewing in Ukraine earlier this year.
However, not all may be lost even if U.S.-Russian diplomacy is in a rough spot. According to NBC News space analyst James Oberg, Russian hardware can't function in space without "U.S. electrical power and communications services," so there's one trade-off for the Russians. Oberg added that China could become America's next space ally.
But there's one thing America can't get around: Russians are the only astronauts who can have a handgun in space. Ominous.