International tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the situation in Ukraine continue to put pressure on the space program. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who heads up their space program, is now threatening to cut off U.S. access to the International Space Station after 2020 because of U.S. sanctions against Rogozin and other allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a news conference this week, Rogozin called the sanctions "out of place and inappropriate," and also pledged to block the U.S. from using Russian-made rocket engines to launch military satellites. Just two weeks ago, it was Rogozin who suggested the U.S. "use a trampoline" to get into space after the U.S. first issued the sanctions.
Rogozin's threats still leave six years for the countries to reach a resolution and smooth things over, but shouldn't be dismissed, according to seven-time shuttle astronaut Jerry Ross. "It's not totally hollow, because it's taking our country longer and longer to be able to produce any type of new human space flight vehicle," he tells KTRH. NASA is working on finding ways to get a transport vehicle ready within a few years, but Ross hopes this Russian threat will serve as a wake-up call to both the Obama Administration and Congress. "Get on with the program, and get us some new vehicles to fly into space, so we're not paying the Russians $70 million per seat, and relying upon them totally to get our crew members into space and back home," he says.
NASA released a statement to KTRH saying that "ongoing operations on the ISS continue on a normal basis," and "we have not received any official notification from the Government of Russia on any changes in our space cooperation at this point."
As a former astronaut, Ross agrees that this situation shouldn't affect day-to-day operations at the ISS. "The crew members, ourselves, we get along fine," he says. "We're all dedicated to preparing for our missions, and carrying out the missions in a safe and productive fashion." But back here on Earth, he wants this situation to spur new action on the space program. "I am looking for anything that will motivate our country to get off the dime and get moving...so I hope this does."