WASHINGTON — NASA has sharply criticized Russia for using the International Space Station to promote its invasion of Ukraine, a departure from the agency’s approach of emphasizing continued cooperation despite the war.
In a late July 7 statement, NASA said it “strongly rebukes” Russia for its political activities on the station related to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. The brief statement does not specify what incident prompted the statement.
“NASA strongly rebukes Russia’s use of the International Space Station for political purposes in support of its war against Ukraine, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating nations to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes,” the agency said in a statement emailed to reporters.
The statement appears to be in response to images released by Russian space agency Roscosmos on July 4 which showed the three Russian cosmonauts on the station – Sergey Korsakov, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev – holding flags associated with the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic and in Donetsk. People’s Republic. These are regions of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces but whose independence is only recognized by Russia and Syria.
The flags were displayed to mark the Russian occupation of Lysychansk, the last town of Luhansk to fall to Russian forces. In the Roscosmos statement published on the social media network Telegram, the agency said so, and the cosmonauts of the station congratulated the government of the Lugansk People’s Republic for the capture of the city.
NASA’s statement contrasts with its past efforts to publicly downplay the war’s effect on the ISS partnership. In the past, NASA management had noted a longstanding relationship with Russia and the former Soviet Union in spaceflight dating back to the Cold War.
“On the station are Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts, and they are all very professional. The relationship between mission control in Houston and Moscow is very professional,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said June 15 during a joint press conference with his European Space Agency counterpart, Josef Aschbacher, asked about relations with Russia.
“Despite the tragedies occurring in Ukraine by President Putin, the fact is that the international partnership is strong when it comes to the civilian space program,” he said.
It is not known whether this incident will have a lasting effect on cooperation with the ISS. NASA and Roscosmos have yet to finalize a seat swap deal to allow Russian cosmonauts to fly on commercial spacecraft and American astronauts to go on Soyuz spacecraft. In a separate Telegram post on July 6, Dmitry Rogozin, head of Roscosmos, said he expected a final version of the deal in one to two weeks.
A European Space Agency astronaut on the station, Samantha Cristoforetti, is due to perform a spacewalk from the Russian segment of the station on July 21 with Artemyev. The two will work on a European robotic arm on the station’s Nauka module.