Does the promise of space still unite us?
Previously published in the Orlando Sentinel
By Ann Kapusta, Space Frontier Foundation Executive Director
In 1975 the United States and Russia completed the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, an historic turning point from the nationalistic space race era to one of international cooperation in space. The test docking mission led to the signing of the Space Cooperation Agreement in 1987, still two full years before the end of the Cold War. For 35 years, despite aggression, hostility and wars on Earth, space has been what we hoped it could be — a unifying force for the best of humanity’s intentions.
We are faced now with the chilling reality that this era ended Feb. 24. As Putin waged an unprovoked war on the Ukrainian people, Dmitry Rogozin evaporated any remaining or perceived distance between Putin’s war machine and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.
In a series of escalating toxic behavior, the Director General has made it abundantly clear that Roscosmos can not be counted as an ally in building a shared future in space. Post invasion, Rogozin’s opening dialogue to the space community was a threat to weaponize the International Space Station by crash-landing the station, and the seven international researchers aboard, into a civilian area on Earth. Further official Roscosmos propaganda depicted a (scientifically inaccurate) portrayal of cosmonauts detaching the Russian segment of the ISS and watching the U.S. Orbital Segment (USOS) and its researchers fall back to earth.
Rogozin isn’t just threatening to jeopardize international collaboration with the ISS, he is actively disconnecting and disassociating Roscosmos from the rest of the international space community. Roscosmos defaulted on the (fully paid and contracted) March 4 launch of 36 OneWeb satellites from Baikonur, bringing the satellites down from a loaded launch configuration aboard the Soyuz rocket.
Rogozin also withdrew his agency’s launch support from the European spaceport in French Guiana, and is violating contracts to service and supply RD-180 and RD-181 engines to the U.S., publicly allocating them for Putin’s war and intelligence operations instead.
In the face of threats and hostility from our oldest partner in this endeavor, can space still hold the promise of a unified future for humanity? Undeniably yes. But we must course-correct now, and make the difficult decision to move away from the status quo. We can no longer work in collaboration with Roscosmos and trust the safety of our USOS crew aboard the ISS. Despite our historic cooperation with Russia, we disregard these threats now at our own peril. We must stand in united opposition against the weaponization of space by Rogozin and Roscosmos.
Fortunately our choices are not “Russia or nobody.” There are 75 other active government space agencies (including Ukraine), 14 with launch capabilities, and a thriving international commercial space economy. The time for a new era of collaboration is now. We must make full partners of those who see space exploration and development as an expression of freedom — and we do that through collaboration with free nations. It is our responsibility to build a space frontier representative of the best that humanity has to offer here on our planet — richness of diversity, free creative expression, a respect for science, and an understanding that we are all brothers and sisters, equally deserving of kindness, on a pale blue dot.
Ann Kapusta is the executive director of the Space Frontier Foundation, a space advocacy nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that the exploration and development of space is open to everyone through the power of free enterprise.