NASA's Catch-22: Russia may move astronaut training to Crimea

NASA may be in political predicament if Soyuz training moved to annexed Crimea

nasa astros cosmonauts spoyuz
Victor Zelentsov/NASA

Russia is reportedly planning to move survival training for all Soyuz passengers to a Russian naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea, an area the Russian military grabbed from Ukraine earlier this year.

That will put NASA in a predicament, since the U.S. condemned Russia's actions in Ukraine but needs the Russian Federal Space Agency to transport U.S. astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station on Soyuz spacecraft.

The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported earlier this week that Russia's space agency also plans to return to using what was once a post-flight rehabilitation center in an area of Ukraine.

"Sevastopol may soon become a space training center again," a Roscosmos press service official told ITAR-TASS. "Cosmonauts' training sessions will, possibly, resume in the water area of the main base of the Black Sea Fleet."

The U.S., as well as the European Union, have been at odds with Russia since the country moved to aggressively annex Crimea in March. The U.S. contends that Russia has since moved to destabilize Ukraine by sending in arms and troops.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions against Russia, including targeting one of the country's largest banks, as well as Rostec, a major Russian conglomerate.

To further complicate matters, ever since NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles, the U.S. has been dependent on the Russian Federal Space Agency to ferry NASA astronauts to the space station.

NASA is working to launch astronauts from U.S. soil again but doesn't expect that program to be ready until 2017.

On Friday, a NASA spokesman told Computerworld: "We're focused on returning human spaceflight launches to America and continuing the extraordinary scientific research being conducted on board the International Space Station." The statement continued: "With respect to the reports out of Russia, we won't comment on speculative press reports. Russia has maintained strong support for the International Space Station, and we expect that will continue into the future."

A spokesperson for the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology said the committee has not been notified of any changes, but is monitoring the situation closely.

In April, NASA announced that because of continuing tensions with the Russian government, it was scaling back work with Russia's space agency.

NASA also said at the time that it planned to continue to work with the Russian federation to continue the operation of the space station Station.

Since tensions erupted over Ukraine, Russia has continued to ferry NASA astronauts to the space station. Just this week, for example, a NASA astronaut and two cosmonauts flew back to Earth from the orbiter onboard a Soyuz capsule.

Everything has not been easy going for NASA and the Russian Federation, however.

In May, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Russia plans to focus its attention on projects, other than the space station, after 2020.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke out a week later, saying work on the space station will continue with, or without, Russia's cooperation. He added that no single nation is indispensable, and that NASA intends to continue its work with the space station through at least 2024 as expected.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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