Burning A Bridge To Space?

Hitching a ride with Russia may no longer be an option

The Soyuz TMA-01M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday, Oct. 8, 2010 carrying Expedition 25 Soyuz Commander Alexander Kaleri of Russia, NASA Flight Engineer Scott J. Kelly and Russian Flight Engineer Oleg Skripochka to the International Space Station. Their Soyuz TMA-01M rocket launched at 5:10 a.m Kazakhstan time. (Photo Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi)NASA

In March, amid escalating tensions in the Ukraine, the Russian Soyuz rocket blasted NASA astronaut Steven Swanson and two cosmonauts to the International Space Station from a launchpad in Kazakhstan (pictured here). The flight was part of NASA’s $424 million contract extension with the Russian Federal Space Agency, which covers Soyuz flights through 2017. Yet as diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Russia deteriorate, so too does the security of our only ride to space. It didn’t help when NASA announced in April that it was suspending most missions with the Russian space agency (except for operations involving the International Space Station). Former NASA astronaut Tom Jones is cautiously optimistic, though. “My feeling is there won’t be any change to the space-station operation,” he says, “but the announcement will antagonize the Russian government in ways we can’t predict.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Popular Science_._