May 19--We hope, not with any great optimism, that our government saw this coming and planned accordingly. But, the Kremlin, smarting over the sanctions and international opprobrium over its grab of Crimea and transparent meddling in eastern Ukraine, is retaliating by threatening to curtail U.S. access to its satellites and the International Space Station.
In the short-term, it could be a serious setback for the sadly deteriorated U.S. space program. In the long-term, it could be a much-needed kick in Uncle Sam's seat to begin getting serious about reasserting the United States' pre-eminent role in space.
Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced it will halt the sale of RD-180 space engines which the United States relies on to ferry supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station, orbit civilian and military satellites, and bundled in the Atlas V to launch deep space probes.
In fairness to the Russians -- not that they deserve it -- the United States announced in April that it was suspending cooperation except for the ISS and placed sanctions on the parent company of the manufacturer of the RD-180.
The Russians also announced that they would not continue cooperation on the ISS after 2020; the United States had hoped to keep it going until 2024.
The problem is that, under the pattern set by Russian President Vladimir Putin, acceding to this form of blackmail only invites more of it. The United States can't outwait Putin -- he's only 61 -- and his handpicked successor will be chosen with the proviso that he carries on Putin's overarching policy of Russian aggrandizement.
Putin's display of diplomatic machismo is not without cost to the Russians. The United States has picked up between two-thirds and three-quarters of the estimated $160 billion spent to date on the ISS. (Russia charges us $3 billion a seat to ferry an astronaut there.)
The government should open up opportunities and its wallet to private aerospace firms eager to enter the space race; perhaps they and the other members of the ISS consortium would again partner with us -- the 10-nation European space agency, the Canadians and, especially, the Japanese, now that the Russians have announced that they plan to replace the United States with China as their partner in space exploration .
And NASA should begin designing and building a state-of-the-art rocket of its own. Various experts have said it would take five years. We undersell ourselves. We fought World War II in less time.
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