On Tuesday, Russia announced that starting in 2020, it will no longer allow NASA astronauts on the International Space Station, in retaliation for sanctions levied by the US because of Russia's invasion of Crimea.
How can Russia bar American astronauts from a station that both countries own? Simple. Right now, NASA relies on Russian rockets to get its astronauts to and from space, paying them $70.7 million for each one-way ticket.
NasA relies on russian rockets to get its astronauts to and from space"
The surprising announcement won't affect the US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts currently aboard the International Space Station, orbiting about 260 miles above Earth's surface, or the future missions there planned over the next few years.
But the most recent plans were for the station to operate at least until 2024. Now, with Russia angered by the sanctions — especially those blocking high-tech exports that might help the Russian military — that no longer seems to be possible.
If these tensions don't resolve by 2020, things could really get messy in space. Private American space companies are hoping to have their own transport systems in place by then — so NASA could theoretically access the station on its own — but Russia is claiming that its space agency, Roscosmos, would try to operate its portion of the station without NASA involvement.
"The Russian segment can exist independently from the American one. The US one cannot," Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin said during the announcement.