Russian sanctions and the incredibly heightened tensions that have resulted from the Russian invasion of Ukraine are affecting the ISS, the international space station, which represents the joint effort of several nations.
The Earth’s laboratory in space finds itself jeopardized by the sanctions that have been levied on Russia since that country is responsible for parts of the ISS’s propulsion control systems that keep it in place.
And now a Twitter war has erupted between a veteran retired astronaut and the head of the Russian Space Agency, bringing to light ongoing political tensions that may mean a halt to the program altogether.
The US Astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted against the Russian invasion of Ukraine recently.
This 👇🏻 was the answer of #Rogozin, the leader of Roscosmos, before he deleted his tweet.
🙃 No Comment#ISS pic.twitter.com/Tby0WAh4rb
— Niels 🛫 (@Space_Baguette) March 7, 2022
Russian sanctions and the ISS
The ISS started its life as a joint partnership between the United States and Russia, a concrete symbol that the unrelenting tensions of the Cold War had been put firmly in the past. But the behemoth space project now finds itself the victim of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine as figures from the two sides trade barbs with each other on Twitter.
After the sanctions that rained down on Russia last week from a host of nations around hte world in response to the military incursion into Ukraine, Russia’s space program stated that it would stop selling rocket engines to the United States.
This constituted just the latest retaliation in the tit-for-tat of international sanctions that resulted from the unprovoked attack on the country in the heartland of Europe.
“In a situation like this, we can’t supply the United States with our world’s best rocket engines,” said Dmitry Rogozin, the director general of Roscosmos, in an interview on the television channel Russia-24, according to reports from Reuters. “Let them fly on something else—their broomsticks—I don’t know what.”
On February 23, one day before the invasion of Ukraine, Roscosmos issued a statement from its general director via Twitter saying: “We value highly our professional relations with NASA, but as an (ethnic) Russian and a citizen of Russia I am very unhappy with the openly hostile policy of the USA toward my country.”
Димон, ты почему удалил этот твит? Не хочешь, чтобы все увидели, какой ты в сущности ребёнок? pic.twitter.com/xSScT2cSGu
— Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) March 7, 2022
Rogovin issues Tweets insulting astronaut Scott Kelly, veteran of ISS
Two days prior to that, he tweeted, “Glory to Russia” following Putin’s speech regarding Russia’s right to occupy territories of the former Soviet Union. Rogozin is known to be a member of Putin’s inner circle.
US President Joe Biden imposed sanctions that included blocking exports on technology as well as the more prominent restrictions on Russian banks after the invasion. Russian 122 RD-180 engines have been sold to the United States since the 1990s; Reuters reports that U.S. used 98 of these engines to power Atlas launch vehicles to get to the ISS.
Rogozin, who is known for hyperbolic rants, and who once said that the US would have to resort to a trampoline to launch rockets into space after the demise of the space shuttle program, lashed out on Twitter after the sanctions were announced.
The space program director — who is equivalent to the head of NASA in the United States — implied the country could allow the ISS to crash into Earth, since it is Russian hardware that keeps it in orbit, according to a report in Vox.
On the American side, officials are keen to “maintain the even strength” that the astronauts employed in all their dealings with the press, preferring to stay professional and above the fray despite the political tensions swirling around the world during the past several weeks.
NASA — continuing partnerships “as usual” despite Russian sanctions and ISS threats
Kathy Lueders, the head of NASA’s human spaceflight program, said the partnerships between Roscosmos and NASA are continuing as usual, CNBC News reports.
Last Thursday, Roscosomos also took to Twitter to announce it would be halting all its collaborative ties with Germany after that nation’s space center, DLR, publicly condemned the Russian invasion.
In another Tweet, this one aimed at the US, Roscosmos announced that all joint experiments that had been previously planned on the ISS will now be conducted independently. Moreover, Russian space programs will be adjusted after taking into account the sanctions placed by a number of countries.
Reuters also reports that Roscosmos also will be focusing on creating satellites for defense purposes in the future.
Victoria Samson, a space policy analyst at Great Britain’s Secure World Foundation, told the Times “It’s not encouraging that Russia’s space agency is self-isolating. Maybe this is Russia expediting the death of connections that might be happening in due time anyway. But now it’s being done on their terms.”
“Your space program won’t be worth a damn”
As if the situation wasn’t already fraught enough, with both American and Russian scientists currently aboard the ISS as the situation plays out on Earth, Rogozin has Tweeted a number of insulting messages recently, including several that were aimed at former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who had been on the space station himself before his retirement.
One of two identical twins who were both astronauts, Kelly is a revered figure in the US space program.
Kelly has been vocal about the Russian invasion; and as someone who had to learn Russian in order to take part in the ISS missions, he feels free to publish Tweets in that language as well.
Rogozin tweeted a video of technicians taping over the flags of the US, Japan and other nations on the Soyuz rocket that was supposed to launch internet satellites from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Rogozin invites Kelly to undergo medical examination at Brain Institute in Russia
That launch didn’t happen, because the UK government and the company making the satellites declined to meet new demands imposed by Roscosmos, according to Space.com.
“The launchers at Baikonur decided that without the flags of some countries, our rocket would look more beautiful,” Rogozin Tweeted in Russian.
Kelly rose to the bait, responding on Sunday March 6, saying “Dimon, without those flags and the foreign exchange they bring in, your space program won’t be worth a damn. Maybe you can find a job at McDonald’s if McDonald’s still exists in Russia.”
Rogozin, unaccustomed to pushbacks of any kind, retorted with a threatening tweet that said “Get off, you moron! Otherwise the death of the ISS will be on your conscience!”
After that tweet was deleted, Kelly asked for an explanation the next day, Monday. “Dimon, why did you delete this tweet? Don’t want everyone to see what kind of child you are?”
“Dimon,” as a familiar form of “Dimitry,” perhaps wasn’t exactly the right form to use with the Russian space chief, Rogozin lambasted and taunted the retired astronaut again, saying “Mr. Scott Kelly! You needlessly provoke me. We are not familiar with you, but you … call me ‘Dimon,’ although I do not know such a treatment and I will not allow you to behave like that with me. You are being defiant and destructive.”
Rogozin went on to rant “Perhaps the dementia and aggression that you have developed is a consequence of the overload and stress of four flights into space. I invite you to undergo an examination at the Brain Institute of our Federal Medical and Biological Agency.”
Kelly is a veteran of the ISS, staying there for three of his four spaceflights, spending approximately one year aboard the orbiting lab on his last mission, from March 2015 to March 2016.
Rogozin is no stranger to aggressive, even abusive, language. In 2014, when he was serving under Putin as Russia’s deputy prime minister, he suggested that NASA use a trampoline to send American astronauts to the space station.
At that time he was angry about the comparatively milder sanctions that had been imposed after Russia’s invasion of Crimea; also at that time, unlike now, with the US’ SpaceX rockets, Soyuz spacecraft were the only vehicles that could astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory.