The Spectacle Blog

Saving Face in Space

By on 5.16.14 | 12:37PM

Like a child holding a prized toy above his younger brother’s head, Russia is taunting the United States via space policy. In this case, the toy is the International Space Station and it’s being held 250 kilometers above Uncle Sam’s head.

On Tuesday, London's Telegraph reported: “Russia is to deny the US future use of the International Space Station beyond 2020 and will also bar its rocket engines from launching US military satellites as it hits back at American sanctions imposed over Ukraine crisis.” This is the latest in a list of new sanctions announced by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

Last month, I wrote about how the United States has a blaring case of space dependency. We rely on Russian capsules to transport American astronauts to the ISS as well as Russian systems to launch our military satellites ever since President Obama scrapped the Space Shuttle program in 2011. The U.S. pays Russia $60 million per person for a trip to the International Space Station, which has been traditionally manned by an American and Russian crew.

This is like an episode of Stargate SG-1 wherein the Russians have the only working Stargate and thus all the bargaining leverage. However, it’s important to note that private-sector companies like SpaceX and NanoRacks are in a good position to expand their services to sending people as well as supplies into space. International squabbling may have the beneficial side effect of spurring the private-sector space race.

This Cold War-esque tension reminds us that we have more to lose from sanctions with Russia then Russia itself does. In testimony last month to the Senate Science and Space subcommittee, Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Group, warned lawmakers:

A suspension of cooperation between the U.S. and Russia will serve to strengthen political hardliners and compromise safety and trust among astronauts who depend on each other to survive. She also made the point that the scientists in the Russian space industry are progressive thinkers, and the dual space program has had a positive impact on transforming the Russian military industrial establishment.

Furthermore, President Obama’s mercurial, tepid foreign policy does not leave room for harsher measures or acerbic statements. Now that the world knows the transparency of his red lines, we are as dangerous to Russia as the Federated States of Micronesia.

Take your protein pills and put your helmet on: this is going to be an extraterrestrial reverberation of the Cold War, or, in this case, the -455 degrees Fahrenheit war.

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