NASA halts engagement with Russia in response to ‘violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty’

BY Ellen Rolfes  April 3, 2014 at 12:07 PM EDT
Cooperation remains critical to astronauts' efforts on the International Space Station. But down on Earth, NASA announced Wednesday they will halt most of their engagements with Russia, because of worldly disputes over Ukrainian soil and sovereignty. Photo by NASA

Cooperation remains critical to astronauts’ efforts on the International Space Station. But down on Earth, NASA announced Wednesday they will halt most of their engagements with Russia, because of worldly disputes over Ukrainian soil and sovereignty. Photo by NASA

NASA announced Wednesday that it is halting almost all of its activities and contact with Russia, after the State Department issued a directive to several federal agencies to terminate communications with the Kremlin, CBS News reports.

“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,” associate administrator for International and Interagency Relations Michael O’Brien wrote in a memo to NASA staff.

Activities that will not be suspended include cooperative efforts related to the International Space Station, which is jointly run by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. No one partner could operate the ISS independently of the other.

The memo does call on Congress to decrease dependence on Russia where it can, specifically calling on lawmakers to increase funding for flights into space from U.S. soil. Currently, American astronauts must pay Russia a cool $70 million for a seat on the Soyuz space capsule — which launches from Kazakhstan — in order to get to and from the ISS.

“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.”

Since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011, the Soyuz spacecraft is the only means of travel to the ISS.