WASHINGTON — NASA announced April 2 that it is suspending “the majority” of its cooperative activities with Russia, excluding the international space station. But what exactly the ban covers, and how it originated, was still not clear by press time April 4. 

“What’s the status with station? It’s the same as it was when I testified before Congress,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said April 3 at a joint meeting of the Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (SSB/ASEB) here. “The relationship between NASA and Roscosmos is good, it is healthy.”

Bolden added that he had spoken to his counterpart, Roscosmos Director Oleg Ostapenko, just an hour earlier. “Right now, Mr. Ostapenko is just as concerned as I am that the politicians don’t take things and spin them out of control,” Bolden said. “There are as many people over in Moscow as we have here in Washington, D.C., who would see nothing better than to bring the [ISS] into the discussion on what’s going on in Ukraine, and it should not be.”

NASA’s suspension of non-ISS Russian cooperation, which includes NASA travel to Russia, raised the question of whether NASA would be able to participate in the annual meeting of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) this August in Moscow. “I don’t know” if COSPAR will be affected by the new policy, Bolden said, but he suggested that because it is an international meeting, it might be possible for NASA to still participate. “My advice is, if you’re planning to go to COSPAR, plan to go to COSPAR,” he said. “My instructions to my team is, unless I tell you otherwise, don’t stop doing anything that you’re doing.”

Later at the SSB/ASEB, board members asked Richard DalBello of the Office of Science and Technology Policy about the ban and its implications. DalBello deferred to the official administration answer that was given by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney that afternoon, but offered his own “draft” insights. “Agencies have been asked to look, on a case-by-case basis, at their interactions with Russia,” he said, emphasizing that the ISS was exempted from the suspension in NASA-Russia space cooperation. “This is very much an evolving situation, and we’re trying to be prudent about that.” He added that press reports that NASA had “severed all ties with Russia” are “simply not correct.”

Carney did not provide much additional detail. “In the case of NASA, there are some actions being taken, but obviously with the space station, in particular, that program and the engagement with Russia on that program continues.”

The U.S. State Department said it did not direct NASA to stop cooperation with Russia. “I know there were some erroneous reports yesterday that the State Department had told them to do so,” deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said April 3. “As much as I would love to give direction to NASA, we don’t do that.”


With Much More than ISS at Stake, Europe Stays Course on Russian Space Partnerships 

Jeff Foust has more than a decade of experience writing about space policy, entrepreneurial ventures and regulatory affairs. In 2001, he established spacetoday.net to aggregate and summarize the day's space-related news stories. In 2003, he started The...