NASA suspends communication with Russia over Ukraine crisis

NASA has suspended almost all contact with their Russian counterparts as a result of Russia's annexation of the Crimea.

The Verge is reporting that communications related to the operation of the space station will continue, but that all other contacts have been forbidden by the space agency.

Citing Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereign and territorial integrity, NASA told its officials today that the agency is suspending all contact with Russian government representatives. In an internal NASA memorandum obtained by The Verge, the agency said that the suspension includes travel to Russia, teleconferences, and visits by Russian government officials to NASA facilities. NASA is even suspending the exchange of emails with Russian officials.

Ongoing International Space Station activities are exempt from this suspension, however, as are meetings with other countries held outside of Russia that include the participation of Russian officials. The directives come directly from Michael O'Brien, the agency associate administrator for International and Interagency Relations.

"NASA's goals aren't political," said a NASA scientist who spoke to The Verge on condition of anonymity. "This is one of the first major actions I have heard of from the US government and it is to stop science and technology collaboration... You're telling me there is nothing better?"

Earlier in March, NASA's chief executive, Charles Bolden, told reporters that "everything is normal in our relationship with Russia." But that relationship seems to have gone sour since then. Last week, Bolden used mounting tensions with Russia to blast Congress on its lack of space funding in a blog post, stating that the current reliance on Russian space missions by the US was unacceptable.

NASA issued a statement confirming the suspension and blasting Congress for not "fully funding" manned space programs:

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.

The current manned space efforts at NASA are a boondoggle - vastly over budget with delays stretching out over years. More promising is the SpaceX Dragon capsule that may be man-ready by the end of next year. Launched on top of the Falcon 9 rocket, the reusable Dragon will fly NASA astronauts to the space station and do it for far less money than NASA is capable of. The Dragon is already flying supply missions to the ISI so the system is proving to be reliable and safe.

For NASA to blame Congress for their own inefficiency and incompetence is hypocritical. And in today's tight budget environment, we can't afford NASA excesses anymore.

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