POLITICS

CSA head says business as usual on space station, despite sanctions against Russia

04/15/2014 04:30 EDT | Updated 06/15/2014 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - The head of the Canadian Space Agency says sanctions taken against Russia for its invasion of Crimea are not affecting operations on the International Space Station.

NASA is continuing co-operation related to the space station but has severed its ties with Russia and forbidden its employees from travelling to the country.

Canadian Space Agency president Walt Natynczyk says Canada continues to work with all its partners involved in the space station, which include the United States, Russia, Europe and Japan.

"The space station is fully functioning and we have people living aboard," he told reporters on Tuesday. "So, as part of that international partnership, Canada works with all partners."

Natynczyk noted that Canada currently does not have any of its own astronauts on board, but it is still involved daily in operating the Canadarm on the space station and Dextre, a two-armed $200-million robotic mobile servicing system.

Dextre performs tasks including changing batteries and handling experiments outside the space station.

"But beyond that, it's always on a case-by-case basis," Natynczyk said of Canada's co-operation.

The CSA president made his comments after a luncheon speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

He would not comment when asked whether the Canadian Space Agency was consulted by NASA before it decided to cut off some links with the Russians, deferring to the Foreign Affairs Department.

He also would not speculate when asked what would happen if Canada decided to cut ties with Russia.

Since the retirement of the U.S. space shuttles in 2011, astronauts have been transported to the space station and back to Earth on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

But Natynczyk did not appear concerned about the possibility that astronauts could be left marooned because of tensions with Russia.

"We're just going to focus on continued success with the responsibilities that Canada has," he said.

NASA has said that it will continue to work with the Russian space agency to maintain continuous operation of the space station.

But in a memo sent to workers, it has barred its employees from emailing or holding teleconferences with their Russian counterparts.

Canada's former top general also would not respond when asked by one reporter about Russia's military intervention in Eastern Ukraine.

"My thoughts are my own and I won't share that with you," Natynczyk said.

He was also non-committal when asked about future visits to the space station by Canadian astronauts.

CSA officials have said in the past that the next Canadian will travel to the orbiting space laboratory somewhere between 2016 and 2019.

That trip would go to one of Canada’s two astronauts, who are David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen.

All Natynczyk would say is that the pair continue to work on their training.

"They want to be ready, so (at) that time where Canada decides to move forward with the next mission, they're ready to go," he said. "And they're being very patient."

He noted that Hansen has been working in Northern Canada analyzing craters where meteorites have hit, developing skills that would be useful if astronauts ever travel to an asteroid.

Back in 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama challenged NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid. But reaction in the American Congress to such a mission has been lukewarm at best.