NASA Restricts Contacts with Russia Except for ISS - UPDATE
UPDATE: This article is updated to reflect an "official" NASA statement about suspension of "some NASA activities with Russia" posted to a Google+ page this evening.
NASA's Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations has told NASA Center Directors to suspend NASA contacts with Russian government representatives unless an activity is specifically excepted. Currently, the only excepted activity is operations of the International Space Station.
SpacePolicyOnline.com has obtained a copy of an email circulated by NASA Ames Center Director Pete Worden dated today, April 2, 2014, explaining the new policy:
From: Centerwide Announcement <firstname.lastname@example.org.
MESSAGE FROM THE CENTER DIRECTOR:
All NASA Centers have received direction from Michael F. O¹Brien, the agency Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations regarding suspension of NASA contact with Russian entities. That direction is provided as follows:
Given Russia¹s ongoing violation of Ukraine¹s sovereignty and territorial integrity, until further notice, the U.S. Government has determined that all NASA contacts with Russian Government representatives are suspended, unless the activity has been specifically excepted. This suspension includes NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian Government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences. At the present time, only operational International Space Station activities have been excepted. In addition, multilateral meetings held outside of Russia that may include Russian participation are not precluded under the present guidance.
If desired, the NASA HQ Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR) will assist in communication with Russian entities regarding this suspension of activities. Specific questions regarding the implementation of this guidance can be directed to Ms. Meredith McKay, (202) 358-1240 or mailto:email@example.com . OIIR remains in close contact with the Department of State and other U.S. Government departments and agencies. If the situation changes, further guidance will be disseminated.
S. Pete Worden
NASA Headquarters did not respond to a SpacePolicyOnline.com request for comment by the time this article was originally posted at 2:37 pm ET, but later NASA tweeted (@nasa) a link to a Google+ page with what appears to be an official NASA statement on the situation: https://plus.google.com/+NASA/posts/eihoeSm5fVy
The statement says that NASA is "suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation" but will work together with its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, to maintain safe and continuous operation of the ISS. The rest of the NASA statement then goes on to blame Congress for not fully funding the commercial crew program to ensure that American astronauts can be launched on American rockets from American soil instead of needing to rely on Russia for such launches. It then turns into a fairly blatant political statement aimed at Congress: "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."
Editor's Note: A U.S. decision to suspend NASA interactions with Russian government officials on everything other than ISS is a serious matter. It is peculiar that the decision was revealed by a leaked email from a NASA Center Director to his employees, that the "official" NASA response was posted to a Google+ website and advertised via Twitter rather than being announced through regular NASA news channels (e.g, a press release), and that the official response was more a message to Congress about the need to fund the commercial crew program rather than to the American people explaining the state of U.S.-Russian space cooperation in light of the situation in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove told CNN this afternoon that NATO was suspending "all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia." It remains unclear as to whether this decision about NASA interactions with Russia is part of a larger cross-government policy or, indeed, a cross-NATO policy where other NATO partners similarly are suspending non-ISS space and aeronautics cooperation with Russia.
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