U.S., Russia feud on Earth but keep the peace in space

Hundreds of kilometres below on Earth, their governments are locked in a standoff over Ukraine — but up in space, Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts are still working together side by side.

The International Space Station (ISS) is one of the rare areas of U.S.-Russian cooperation that has not been hit by the Ukraine crisis, and in the latest show of commitment the next joint mission is set to blast off from Kazakhstan on Friday.

The crew will include two space veterans — American Scott Kelly and Russian Mikhail Kornienko — who are down to become the first people to spend a whole year straight on the cosmic outpost, rather than the usual six months.

“We do our work that we love and we respect each other,” Russian cosmonaut Alexander Samokutyaev said of life aboard the ISS after returning to Earth this month. “Whatever the politicians want to get up to, that is their business,” he told journalists at a press conference just after landing.

And while the research outpost may technically be divided into Russian and American sections the truth, analysts say, is that neither country can run it on their own. “The US and Russia need each other,” American expert John Logsdon, a member of NASA's Advisory Council, told AFP. “It is like a marriage where divorce is almost impossible.”

Since ending its Space Shuttle flights, the U.S. has been dependent on Russian rockets to take astronauts and vital supplies to the space station, especially since the explosion of a commercial rocket in October cast doubt over a NASA deal to use private firms.

Meanwhile the American sector supplies the power to run the whole project and the Russian cosmonauts often rely on NASA’s superior communications system to talk to Earth. “Even though we are butting heads on Earth, up on the ISS we can’t work without them and they can’t work without us,” Russian space expert Vadim Lukashevich told AFP. “It's impossible to break up this cooperation.”

While cooperation on the station looks set to continue, it is likely that the next stage of space exploration — aimed at eventually putting someone on Mars — will be hit by deteriorating relations. — AFP

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