Early tomorrow morning, NASA astronaut Steve Swanson will hitch a ride to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, costing the federal agency a cool $70.7 million that will surely end up in the Kremlin's coffers. So you can understand get why they're not taking this whole Western sanctions thing so seriously.
Swanson will join cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Oleg Artemyev on the journey, which will deliver to them to the ISS. They will join a team of three, NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, cosmonauts Mikhail Yurin and JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata. NASA secured Swanson's space on the mission in April of last year, when NASA agreed to pay Russia a total of $424 million for six space tickets through 2017.
At the time, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden voiced his concern, saying it would be better if the U.S. could launch its own astronauts to space. Because, who knows, we might enter into a Cold War-style territorial dispute with Russian President Vladimir Putin and want to be able to credibly pose a financial threat. Or, you know, make sure NASA astronauts have a guaranteed ride back to Earth.
But since the demise of the Space Shuttle program, the American simply have no other alternative. In Bolden's words, "it is unacceptable that we don't currently have an American capability to launch or own astronauts," adding:
Three years ago, the Administration put forward a public-private partnership plan, the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), to ensure that American companies would be launching our astronauts from U.S. soil by 2015. It’s a plan that supports the U.S. human spaceflight program, boosts our economy, and helps create good-paying American jobs. If NASA had received the President’s requested funding for this plan, we would not have been forced to recently sign a new contract with Roscosmos for Soyuz transportation flights.
Now, as Russia is relentlessly ignoring Western efforts keep Crimea in Ukraine, NASA is keeping any I-told-you-sos to itself. NASA spokesperson Trent Perrotto told FoxNews.com:
We do not expect the current Russia-Ukraine situation to have an impact on our longstanding civil space cooperation with Russia, which goes back decades, including our partnership on the International Space Station (ISS) program. We are confident that our two space agencies will continue to work closely as they have throughout various ups and downs of the broader U.S.-Russia relationship.
And it's easy to put politics aside when you're getting ready to send someone to space:
And, according to CBS, international cooperation is key on board the space station, including, but not limited to, use of the Soyuz ferry:
The Russian segment of the space station uses electricity generated by NASA solar arrays, taps into the station's computer network, uses NASA's communications satellites and relies on U.S. gyroscopes and flight controllers at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to keep the outpost properly oriented without having to use precious rocket fuel. NASA, in turn, relies on the Russians to ferry U.S. and partner astronauts to and from the station aboard Soyuz spacecraft and to provide the rocket power needed for major station maneuvers. And both sides share critical life support systems and launch crewless cargo ships to keep the station supplied.
But back on Earth, the deal is raising eyebrows. But like many other realities of the current Crimea crisis, the two sides are more closely intertwined than they want to believe. The silver lining is that the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula could finally ensure that NASA gets the budget it needs to successfully developing space taxis in collaboration with American companies.