Science is not a political tool

Yesterday, NASA announced it would cease works and even communications with its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, except for their work on the International Space Station.

Although I agree Russia’s moves in Ukraine are totally wrong, and that Russia is an authoritarian country, the United States and especially Obama’s administration are in no place to criticize Putin, since American imperialism is alive and well, and also because extremely violent dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia are strongly supported by the US. So Obama taking any measure against Russia is ridiculous. And this one is simply wrong, outrageous, terrible. Even during the Cold War, some kind of collaboration between NASA and Roscosmos was possible. It greatly helped to reconcile the two great powers to have common manned missions, or at least it helped both countries with Press Relations. Astronauts and cosmonauts have always, even during the Cold War had great relationships -The Verge quoted Frans von der Dunk, a space law professor, saying “the astronauts and cosmonauts were always appreciative of each other’s achievements” – the Space Race was more political than scientific, and still Russian and American scientists were excited by their achievements but also by the other camp’s.
Oh, and if I were Russia I’d totally threaten the US to refuse to bring American astronauts back on Earth from the ISS, as the US is totally dependent on Russia for manned missions. That would be funny.

If the US wants to take sanctions on Russia, so be it. But the last sanction possible is stoping science and technology collaboration. And that’s the first one the Obama Administration has taken!

Charles Bolden, NASA’s administrator, is probably supportive of this measure (more on that in a minute), but of course such a decision needs the approval of the President, so it was probably Obama’s idea; Bolden and Obama are pushing Congress to fund and extend NASA manned-missions budget so that it can bring back manned launches to American soil by 2017 with United Launch Alliance (a Boeing-Lockheed co-venture), Space X and Orbital Sciences. Stopping collaborations between NASA and Roscosmos is a way for Bolden and Obama to remind Congress of the US’ dependence on Russia for manned missions to the ISS.
It’s interesting to bring back manned launches to the US for one reason: cost. ULA, Space X and Orbital Sciences will eventually propose cheaper prices than Russia’s Soyuz, and it will save NASA money. But if the cheapest way to send astronauts to the ISS were with a russian company, NASA should work with it; space exploration should be above politics and international cooperation should be the norm (or, in case of tense situations, a necessary evil). So the cheaper we can make space exploration the better, whether the launchers are american, russian, japanese, indian, european, or chinese. This is not what NASA’s move reflects at all. It sends a message of scientific collaboration being conditioned by politics: essentially, no matter how it affects scientific research and space exploration, we want NASA to not be dependent on Roscosmos because it’s a russian agency. This very “House of Cards” kind of attitude to pressure Congress is disgusting, because it impedes scientific collaboration.

We never stop science. When we stop collaborating on scientific research with a country, we completely deny the existence of scientists there. We deny the fact that there exists people who, despite being from different countries that may be in very complicated terms with ours, want to advance the human species as a whole, who want to advance science, to make discoveries. A scientist is a scientist, whether he’s from the US, Russia, China, Cuba, the UK, etc. All scientists can work together because what unites them is the drive to push humankind forward. This goal is well beyond any kinds of politics.
NASA asks its employes to not even email their russian colleagues. How outrageous is that. Does it imply that all russian scientists agree with Vladimir Putin? Does it imply that they all support their government? Does it imply that russian scientists are ennemies? If scientists as individuals have different opinions, science is politically neutral. There isn’t an American science and a Russian science. There’s just Science.
This decision to cease work with Roscosmos could seriously delay future robotic missions to explore our solar system – for example a mission to Europa. If we want to discover more things about our Universe, we need everybody’s contribution, especially Russia’s.

I hope NASA’s employees won’t follow their orders. Guys, continue working, you are doing an outstanding job, but your Russian colleagues are, too,  so don’t stop talking to them. Perhaps use your personal email adresses to reach them, but don’t let politics get in the way of your fantastic work.



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