NASA expects Russia to keep up its end of space station deal

Agency severs some times with Russia, but still relies on Soyuz to ferry astronauts

Although NASA publicly severed many ties with its Russian counterparts yesterday, the U.S. space agency said it is not concerned Russia will leave its astronauts without a lift home.

"We've had a long-standing relationship with Roscosmos for decades," Allard Beutel, NASA's news chief, told Computerworld. "It's in everyone's best interest to safely continue maintaining the space station. We won't do anything to disrupt that and we don't expect Russia will either."

He also noted that NASA does not have a specific plan in place if Russia refused to transport American astronauts to or from the space station.

On Wednesday, NASA announced that because of continuing tensions with the Russian government over its occupation of Crimea, it will be scaling back work with Russia's space agency.

"Given Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, the U.S. government has taken a number of actions, to include suspending bilateral meetings with the Russian Federation on a case-by-case basis," NASA said in a written statement emailed to Computerworld yesterday.

NASA is still working on a list of what projects it might cancel or what it might exclude Russia from participating in, according to Beutel. He did point out that NASA's new stance is more focused on government-to-government contact and less about work being done by individuals.

"It's not scientist-to-scientist," he noted. "It's not engineers-to-engineers. If they don't work for the Russian Federation, it doesn't fall under this guidance. That's the intent. We're looking at it case-by-case."

Beutel said the "vast majority" of the interaction between NASA and the Russian space agency is focused on the space station.

RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency, reported that Ivan Moiseyev, director of Russia's Space Policy Institute, said NASA's new position will hurt but not end their space partnership.

"The statement was way too harsh," Moiseyev reportedly said. "A freeze on cooperation will spur a serious backlash against the international space program."

The U.S. has depended on Russia to ferry astronauts back and forth to the space station since NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles in 2011.

Just last week, a Russian Soyuz rocket carried a NASA astronaut and two cosmonauts to the space station.

Another Russian Soyuz spacecraft is expected to bring three astronauts, including NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, home from the space station in May.

Right now there are two NASA astronauts - Mastracchio and Steve Swanson - as well as three Russian cosmonauts -- Oleg Artemyev, Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Tyurin - among the six people living together on the orbiting station.

Beutel said the astronauts and cosmonauts have not had any trouble working and living together despite the political tensions between the two governments.

"They are working together as they always do," he added. "That's one of the benefits of space exploration. Even at the height of the Cold War, we had people hooking up in space. That tradition is being maintained today."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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