The U.S. and Russia have had a long history of conducting space missions together, from the launch of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, to the unifying of their space programs to improve their military and security relationship during the first Bush administration.
Presently the U.S. and Russia have an agreed commitment to a space project which ends in 2020, where the International Space Station is managed by both American and Russian crews, but the only way to reach it is by using Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. The U.S. has expressed its wishes to continue running the program past its expiration into 2024, but the Russians do not feel the same.
With the annexation of Crimea that took place earlier this year, the two nations seem to be reverting back to the Cold War era. Within the past few months the U.S. has imposed sanctions on a total of 45 individuals and 18 companies related to the Ukrainian crisis. The U.S. has halted all business dealings with Russia, except their space programs.
As retaliation against the imposed sanctions, Russia has decided halt its rocket engines from launching U.S. military satellites. This act of retaliation would affect the sales of two satellites engines that are necessary for the U.S. military. The Russians have stated that they will allow these transactions to occur, but only if the U.S. can assure that they would not be used to launch military satellites.
The importance of these engines is that they were constructed with a specialized metal that can withstand extreme temperatures found in space. The Russians have found themselves a niche market that they control and so far the U.S. has not been able to create anything like it.
The problem with this retaliation is not so much that the Russians are striking back, but that the U.S. presently does not have any alternatives as far as space shuttles or buying materials for their missions. In 2011, NASA retired its last space shuttle, and Congress continues to lower their budget so building another shuttle does not appear to be an option. As of today, the two major private sector companies that have assisted NASA on providing cargo deliveries to the station are Orbital Sciences and Space X. These two companies are the most viable options to creating another shuttle, but again they’ve only moved cargo not people. Even if they were to create a shuttle it may take years before the U.S. is able to travel into space and at that point the entire blockage may be over.
What the U.S. needs now is to devote more funding for the NASA budget, because if they do not the next step the Russians might take is tampering with our GPS systems. The technology sector of our space projects are one of the most defining parts of the U.S. history, and if history has shown us anything is that the U.S. will come back with an even more creative way to enter space. So if anyone thought the space race was over, think again, the space race is back and ready to take action!