from russia without love

America won the space race and the Cold War. Now, its access to space will be controlled by the whims of the country it defeated thanks to its myopic politicians.

gagarin and laika

The first human in space was a citizen of the Soviet Union and don’t think for a moment that Russians forgot it, especially as the Kremlin’s attitude towards the United States, and most of the West, became toxic. Putin’s strategy to stay in power and keep his competitors at bay was to bring back some of the old Soviet ways, including unabashed nationalism and drawing a line in the sand in front of powerful nations just to make a big statement. After the USSR’s implosion, quite a few questioned whether Russia still matters and through the use of tough talk abroad and anti-West propaganda at home, Putin is trying to show that Russia is still a major global player.

And now, while the Augustine commission is trying to make a plan for the future of human spaceflight in the U.S., the agency that put humans on another world is facing the very real need to rely on Roscosmos to ferry its astronauts to a space station largely built and funded by them for $51 million a seat. Well, at least until the shuttle is retired and opportunistic officials hike the rate to take advantage of the situation. Add to that the anti- Western sentiment radiating from the state sponsored media and politically allied outlets, and there could be potential for a very, very nasty geopolitical blemish.

In effect, Roscosmos would be controlling human spaceflight for its Cold War competitor. Nationalist politicians trying to win favor with the Kremlin and Putin’s supporters in the populace just wouldn’t be able to resist mentioning how the mighty have fallen and that the agency that accomplished the feat of landing men on the Moon on a routine basis now has to bum rides from Russia. Think that wouldn’t carry in the Russian media? Well, consider that when an amateur Norwegian singer won in an international talent show hosted in Moscow this year, the press quickly found that he was actually born in a former Soviet territories and his family moved to Norway when he was four years old. However, his birthplace was the focal point of almost all discussion about the contest and the media patted the nation on the back for being an “exporter of talent to the West.” Oh and did I mention that the contest itself, EuroVision, isn’t considered a big deal almost anywhere else in the world for the last decade or so? But this is Russia today. Any victory, no matter how small or indirect gets national attention and hoorays from nationalist pundits and TV hosts.

Having NASA lose the ability to send humans into space on its own schedule, with its own vehicles, would be a major political blow and with a stranglehold on American astronauts, Russian officials would be given what could only be described as a once in a lifetime tool for control. Oh the U.S. is against a certain weapons deal or political maneuver? What are they going to do? Well, they certainly won’t be visiting the ISS for a while…

# space // geopolitics / nasa / space exploration


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