On Thursday, NASA strongly criticized Russia for using the International Space Station to promote its invasion of Ukraine, flouting the agency’s approach of emphasizing ongoing cooperation amidst the war.
In a statement on July 7th, the U.S. space agency said it “strongly rebukes” Russia for political activity on the station related to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the fifteen international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes.
The statement by NASA stands in contrast to its past efforts to publicly minimize the effect of the war on the ISS partnership. NASA leadership had in the past noted a long-running relationship with Russia and the former Soviet Union in spaceflight that dated back to the Cold War.
On Monday, the Russian space agency posted photos of its three cosmonauts posing with the flags of the Luhansk and the Donetsk People’s self-proclaimed republics in breakaway regions of Ukraine that are only recognized as independent states by Russia and Syria.
The flags were displayed to mark the Russian occupation of the region, and the agency said the capture was “a liberation day to celebrate both on Earth and in space.”
NASA’s Position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NASA has gone ahead to preserve the partnership on the space station, which has endured for more than twenty years.
The space agency has highlighted the comity between the astronauts and cosmonauts living side by side in orbit and pledged the partnership would continue to endure.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, said that despite the war and tensions on the ground, NASA and its Russian counterparts “are still talking together. We’re still doing training together. We’re still working together. Obviously, we understand the global situation and where it is, but as a joint team, these teams are operating together.”
She added that: “Obviously we need to continue to monitor the situation…we have operated in these kinds of situations before and both sides always operated very professionally and understand the importance of this fantastic mission and continuing to have peaceful relations between the two countries in space.”
It’s unclear if NASA’s criticism on Russia’s cosmonauts will have any lasting effect on ISS cooperation.
It should be noted that NASA and Roscosmos have yet to finalize a seat barter agreement to allow Russian cosmonauts to fly on commercial crew spacecraft and American astronauts to go on Soyuz spacecraft.