NASA confirms a leaked internal memo that states it suspended the "majority of its ongoing engagements" with Russia over the country's recent incursion into Crimea, but says it will keep working together to maintain operation of the International Space Station
The gossip among spaceheads on sites like The Verge and NasaWatch (which is not an official NASA site) is that NASA has suspended all “contacts with Russian Government representatives…unless the activity has been specifically excepted,” in the phrasing of a supposedly leaked memo. The biggest of those exceptions would be anything related to the operation of the International Space Station, in which both countries have skin—literally—in the form of astronauts.
The alleged memo is unusually frank in its phrasing, blaming the chill on “Russia’s ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Fox News, Huffington Post, CBS News and others are confirming the report, but AP has said nothing and NASA is so far mum.
A NASA representative at the Johnson Space Center emailing with TIME had no knowledge of the supposed memo and seemed amused by it, given that agency officials met with their Russian counterparts just this morning. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has been making the point that Russia’s unreliability makes it all the more imperative for NASA funding to get a bump so the U.S. can free itself of the need to hitch rides aboard Soyuz spacecraft—at $70 million per seat—just to reach the Space Station.
It’s unlike NASA to play cute with leaks, letting this memo slip, say, just to put some heat on Congress for more money and on Moscow for better behavior. Russia does like those steep air fares we pay them and doesn’t need to be reminded of that. The memo—if it exists—may be the result of someone inside NASA overstepping, but a formal statement is still pending as of late Monday afternoon.
Update 8:10 p.m. ET: NASA indeed suspended some activities with Russian officials. NASA’s full statement:
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.