Space brings US and Russia together – despite Ukraine tensions


A Russian Soyuz space capsule landed safely in a snowy field in central Kazakhstan on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, as part of a routine trip from the International Space Station (ISS), writes Professor Stefan Hedlund.

On board were US NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky who were returning to Earth having spent more than five months on board the ISS.

The event reflects that even in the midst of heightened tensions over Russian aggression against Ukraine, some parts of US-Russia cooperation are still thriving. By symbolic coincidence, Cosmonaut Kotov is actually a native of Crimea. But the landing also reflected what may be at stake if the conflict over Crimea escalates further.

Ever since 2011, when the US abandoned its space shuttle programme, the American space programme has been dependent on Russian transport. Washington currently pays Moscow US$70 million apiece for a seat on the Soyuz space capsule that ferries its astronauts to the ISS, money which the Russian space programme badly needs.

Meanwhile, Russia also depends on US technology to keep the ISS operating. Neither side, in fact, could run the station without cooperation from the other.

Ever since its launch, the ISS has been an illustration of highly successful international cooperation in space. The three now on board the ISS, are Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, and NASA’s Rick Mastracchio.

The next mission, to be launched on March 25, will bring an American, a Russian and a Latvian.

The only major nation not represented is China. If cooperation between Russia and the US breaks down, the space will belong to China, which is making big strides of its own.

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