The increasing tensions between the U.S. and Russia have finally spilled over into an area of deep cooperation between the two nations--space. In response to a new batch of U.S. sanctions issued this week against Russia--including a ban on export licenses for certain high-tech items used by the Russian military and a ban on contact between NASA and the Russian government--one Russian leader put America on blast. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who heads Russia's defense ministry, took to Twitter to blast what he called "sanctions against our space industry," and suggested the U.S. deliver its astronauts to the International Space Station "with the help of a trampoline."
Since ending its space shuttle program, the U.S. has been using Russian shuttles to transport its astronauts to the ISS. In exchange, the U.S. pays Russia millions of dollars and lends technology to maintain the space station. Space Historian RobertZimmerman tells KTRH this is a delicate situation. "I think a lot of this is bluster, but it's one of these things where the bluster can escalate into really bad consequences," he says. For starters, he doesn't think Russia will cut the U.S. off from the ISS, because they couldn't operate it without our help. "It's a mutual deal, if they cut us off then we can cut them off, and the space station falls to the ocean or lands on someone's head," says Zimmerman.
It may not be as dramatic as the ISS falling to Earth, but Zimmerman does see more realistic consequences of the sanctions. "A lot of American rockets depend on Russian engines," he says. "If we're putting up sanctions, those rocket engines might not be available and those rockets therefore might not be able to launch." The ultimate solution, as he sees it, is for America to find an alternative to hitching a ride to space with the Russians. "What I can say is it's imperative that the United States replace the Russians with our own launch system," says Zimmerman.