Ever since NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011, the only way to get up to the International Space Station is on a Russian Soyuz. That’s why the six humans currently orbiting in space—including two Americans and three Russians—might be paying attention to what’s happening on earth two hundred miles below.
As tensions run high between the U.S. and Russia over the situation in Ukraine, geopolitics may find its way into space again. Over at the blog Looking Up, Duncan Geere has written an excellent piece laying out possible astro-political scenarios in space.
While all-out war remains unlikely, astronauts could become a point of leverage for Vladimir Putin in a larger conflict. “It’s not inconceivable that the International Space Station may play some part in this — either by denying the U.S. the use of Soyuz, or simply by charging exorbitant amounts for it,” Geere writes.
With ISS trips planned years in advance, there are only ten Soyuz launches scheduled from now until 2016. In addition, NASA has to be granted special exemptions to the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act, which normally prohibits the U.S. from buying space-related goods and services from Russia while it’s selling nuclear technology to Iran. NASA’s exemption expires in 2016, and, if the relationship between the U.S. and Russia worsens, this could become a tougher sell.