NASA's Done Playing Nice With Russia (Well, Unless It Involves the Space Station)

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 2 2014 4:36 PM

NASA Says It's Done Talking to Russia About Anything Unrelated to the International Space Station

480521761-astronaut-steven-swanson-a-crew-member-of-a-mission-to
Fortunately for NASA's Steven Swanson NASA is stilling willing to talk with its Russian counterparts about the International Space Station

Photo by Dmitry Lovetsky/AFP/Getty Images

NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency have largely managed to play nice despite the ever-mounting tension between Washington and Moscow down here on planet Earth. That, however, is no longer the case as of today, at least based on this internal agency memo obtained by The Verge:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

"Given Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's 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."
Advertisement

NASA is expected to issue a statement on the new policy later today but, in the meantime, unnamed officials at the agency have confirmed the story is legitimate to NBC News and a few others. Still, it's important to note that giant caveat mentioned in the memo: "operational International Space Station activities have been excepted." That's particularly good news for Rick Mastracchio, who has been serving as a flight engineer aboard the ISS for the past several months, and Steve Swanson, who arrived at the space station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket just last week. (Since the United States retired its space shuttle fleet, NASA's astronauts have had to hitch rides to the space station with their Russian counterparts. Estimated price per seat: $71 million.)

The memo also left the door open for additional exceptions, so it's unclear exactly how much too make of the new policy until we hear more from NASA itself. (At least as its laid out in the internal memo, the new company line appears to amount to something like "We're not going to talk to Russia anymore—unless it helps us, or we want to.")

Still, the fact that agency officials felt the need to put that policy in print—particularly at a time when NASA relies so heavily on the Russians—marks a departure from the usual public tone struck by U.S space officials when it comes to the Russians. Early last month, for example, NASA chief executive Charles Bolden brushed off questions about the working relationship between the two space agencies, noting that past flare-ups between Washington and Moscow haven't previously been felt in space and suggesting this one would be no different. "We have weathered the storm through lots of contingencies here," Bolden said then.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

This post has been updated.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.