Regardless of whether Russia is serious, its statement last week that it plans to pull out of the International Space Station in six years should give concern to Washington. Perhaps even more so, the federal government should be concerned about a pronouncement that reaches into U.S. security — Russia’s refusal to allow Russian-made rocket engines to be used to launch U.S. military satellites into outer space.
What that means is that even if the rest of the nations involved with the ISS want to keep it going, the U.S. has lost its “taxi” for ferrying our astronauts to and from the space station, which Washington officials had hoped would remain in service until at least 2024. When the United States scuttled its aged space shuttle fleet with nothing to immediately replace it, Washington placed our nation in a position of weakness.
And if Russia follows through on its refusal to allow us to launch our military satellites into space with its engines, that may be detrimental to U.S. security, which is getting more and more satellite dependent.
Until now, the U.S.-Russia cooperation in the near Earth “final frontier” has been mutually beneficial. We have, however, been uneasy with the idea of having much of America’s access to outer space outsourced to another country, particularly when that partner is Russia, our once and perhaps future Cold War enemy.
The danger — which has come to pass — is that Russia’s government has always been one mercurial despot away from crippling U.S. space access. Enter Vladimir Putin, the former KGB official who has no love for our nation in general and a disdain for the current administration in particular.
Russia’s actions are in direct response to America’s position on its takeover from Crimea and latest shenanigans in eastern Ukraine. Basically, Putin is telling President Obama to get out of his way or suffer the consequences.
Permitting Russia to hold a Sword of Damocles over these critical U.S. space interests has been — and, it should be obvious, continues to be — unacceptable. America cannot afford to abandon this area, nor can it allow someone like Putin to have this much leverage.
Getting America back to a point where it can do the basics — launch astronauts and satellites into space without beholding to any other nation — is something that needs to quickly get onto the front burner in Washington. The United States has allowed itself to be placed in a precarious position, one that cannot be tolerated.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board