NASA has moved to wean itself off Russia by reducing its staff and phasing out joint projects in Moscow after Elon Musk’s SpaceX ended America’s reliance on Russian rockets.
According to Russian media reports, NASA has started to lay off almost all staff members of its liaison office in Moscow, minimize personnel stationed at the astronaut training center in Star City, casualize the research team at the IMBP bio-medical experiment facility, and phase out joint programs.
“This is due to the end of regular flights of NASA astronauts on Russian spacecraft”.
Since the successful Demo-2 commercial crew mission to the ISS by SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in 2020, NASA has not expressed any interest in buying future Soyuz seats.
A Soyuz spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Kate Rubins along with Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov to the International Space Station (ISS) on October 14 was likely the last mission where NASA paid $90.25 million to Russia for a seat.
According to the US embassy in Russia, NASA has had a large presence in Moscow, with offices at the U.S. Embassy, Star City, the Mission Control Center-Moscow, and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).
The NASA Moscow Liaison Office (NMLO) at the U.S. Embassy represents all of NASA’s programs and offices in Russia.
Most of NASA’s cooperation with Russia is conducted through Roscosmos. Roscosmos was established in 1992 as the Russian Space Agency (RSA). In 1999, RSA’s mandate was expanded to include the aviation industry, at which time its name was changed to Rosaviakosmos. In 2004, responsibility for the aviation industry was moved to the Federal Agency for Industry. At the beginning of 2015, it was announced that Roscosmos and United Rocket and Space Corporation (URSC) would be merged into the State Corporation “Roscosmos,” with Igor Komarov as the Head. For human space flight activities, NASA also cooperates with the following organizations: Rocket and Space Corporation (RSC) Energia, Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center, Central Scientific Research Institute of Engineering (TsNIIMash), Mission Control Center-Moscow (TsUP), Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), and the Institute of Bio-Medical Problems (IMBP). In space science, NASA also cooperates with the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), including the Institute of Space Science (IKI).
History and U.S.-Russia Joint Efforts
NASA and Russia have a long history of extensive and diverse cooperation, starting with space biology and medicine, and geodesy and geodynamics in the 1960s. In 1972, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Agreement Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Concerning Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes (“Civil Space Agreement”), which expanded this cooperation into other areas, including space science, Earth science, satellite-based search and rescue, and, later, human space flight. Some of the major cooperation examples include:
Cooperation on human space operations began with the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in the 1970s. Although U.S. and Soviet human space flight programs went their separate ways in the late 1970s, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s cooperation between Russia and the United States flourished through the Shuttle-Mir Program.
Some of the current projects now focus on the use of Russian instruments on NASA robotic probes to the Moon and Mars, research on Russian bioscience spacecraft, and, of course, the continued success of the International Space Station (ISS).
International Space Station: The ISS is a multinational effort with participation by the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 11 member states of the European Space Agency (ESA). Permanent human presence began on November 1, 2000 with a crew of three. Russia’s contributions to the ISS are significant, including the Zvezda Service Module launched July 2000; a Docking Compartment launched September 2001; regularly-launched Progress resupply spacecraft; and crew transportation to the ISS on the Soyuz spacecraft. Soyuz spacecraft always remain docked to ISS to serve as a crew return vehicle. In addition to these contributions, Russia built and launched the first element of the ISS, the Zarya FGB Functional Cargo Block, under contract to the Boeing Company.
Space Science Cooperation: NASA has cooperated with Soviet and Russian space scientists on Mars exploration since the 1980s, most recently on NASA’s Mars Odyssey and NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), both of which are in operation today. Russia has instruments on both of these spacecraft, including IKI’s Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument, which is searching for water on the Curiosity Rover. Russia also has the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) instrument which is searching for water from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), in lunar orbit.