NASA announced that the space agency and Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, have signed a joint statement of intent to explore joint efforts to create a deep space station or gateway in the vicinity of the moon. The announcement raises two questions. Why is NASA still contemplating the Deep Space gateway when the Trump administration is pivoting toward a return to the lunar surface? Why is NASA signing joint statements with Russia as the Putin regime becomes increasingly hostile to American interests?

The deep space station

The idea of building a deep Space Station, either in orbit around the moon or at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrange points, first arose during the Obama administration, sometime after he announced that America would no longer return to the moon.

The idea was the American astronauts would practice deep space operations near enough to Earth so that they could return quickly if something untoward would happen. At the same time, astronauts at the deep space station would teleoperate rovers on the lunar surface since, after all, the moon would be close at hand.

The deep space station would make sense once lunar miners get access to water at the moon’s poles and start refining them into rocket fuel. Then the facility would be used as a refueling stop for spacecraft headed for Mars, with the propellant brought up from the lunar surface. However, building such a station first would seem to be putting the cart before the horse. Astronauts need to land on the moon first before the DSP becomes very useful.

Cooperation with Russia

The idea of space cooperation with Russia has been a reoccurring idea ever since President John F. Kennedy proposed it during a speech to the UN General Assembly in 1963. The late Carl Sagan proposed a joint American-Soviet expedition to Mars as a substitute for the Strategic Defense Initiative.

The idea finally took form when President Bill Clinton brought the Russian Federation in as a full partner in the space station project.

For the most part, the partnership has been wildly successful. Using the space station as a way to reach out to Russia, a power that had been rendered prostrate in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, provided the space station with a geopolitical purpose that finally quieted political opposition to the project.

However, Russia under Vladimir Putin is not the relatively friendly power that it was during the 1990s.

Putin’s imperialist ambitions in the Ukraine and the Middle East have caused a strain with the United States and other western powers. Putin has even threatened to cut off American access to the International Space Station from time to time. Therefore, a new space partnership with Russia does not make a lot of sense.