More than a day after NASA announced its suspension of “the majority” of its cooperative activities with Russia, excluding the ISS, many in the space community were still not clear exactly what that ban covered, and also how it originated. Comments by NASA and other administration officials Thursday didn’t necessarily make things clearer.
“What’s the status with [the space] station? It’s the same as it was when I testified before Congress,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said at a joint meeting of the Space Studies Board (SSB) and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) in Washington Thursday morning. He was referring to his appearance before the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee last week, when he said the relationship with the Russian space agency Roscosmos was good. “The relationship between NASA and Roscosmos is good, it is healthy,” Bolden said at the SSB/ASEB meeting.
Bolden added that he had spoken to his counterpart, Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko, just an hour earlier; Ostapenko was in Kourou, French Guiana, for the Soyuz launch of a European earth sciences satellite. “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, DC, who would see nothing better than to bring the International Space Station 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 about whether NASA would be able to participate in the annual meeting of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), taking place this August in Moscow. “I don’t know” if COSPAR will be affected by the new policy, Bolden said, but 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 (OSTP) about the ban and its implications. DalBello deferred to the official administration answer that was given by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a little earlier in the 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.”
At that White House press conference, Carney did not provide much additional detail. “We’ve talked about this previously, and as we’ve already said, we have suspended bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment; we have suspended other bilateral meetings on a case-by-case basis and put on hold U.S.-Russia military-to-military engagement, including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences,” he said when asked specifically about NASA.
“And in terms of the specific case-by-case decisions that are made in response to this broader directive,” Carney continued, “I would have to refer you to each agency. 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.”
Meanwhile, a State Department spokesperson made it clear that they 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,” said deputy spokesperson Marie Harf. “As much as I would love to give direction to NASA, we don’t do that.” She, too, deferred to NASA for more details about the suspension in non-ISS cooperation.