U.S.-Russian Astronauts: Diplomatic Tensions in Space?
In the Integration Facility at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, NASA astronaut Steve Swanson (left) and Alexander Skvortsov (center) and Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos pose for pictures in front of their Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft March 21.
Col. Chris Hadfield relinquished command of the International Space Station on May 13 and retired from his Canadian Space Agency astronaut career of 21 years. With his boundless passion for sharing his experiences with the world, it seemed that the Ontario native spent a lot more than 5 months in orbit. On Tuesday,Discovery News announced that Hadfield is our DNews Person of the Year
as he was able to communicate what it's like to live in space through a myriad of social media platforms, ultimately inspiring the public by his very unique experiences. Here are just a few of his most memorable moments from his final mission into space: Expedition 35.NEWS: Chris Hadfield: DNews Person Of The Year
Seen here on Dec. 21, 2012, Hadfield arrives at the space station, greeted by Russian cosmonauts Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy.
Liquid water in microgravity is a lot of fun, a fact that Chris Hadfield took to heart during his residency on the space station. Shown here, Hadfield is pictured in the obligatory space-water-globule-in-front-of-an-astronaut's-face pose.
Speaking of water, Hadfield used the microgravity opportunity to teach the world a little about how common tasks on the ground bear little resemblance to the same tasks performed in space. As part of a student competition, Hadfield tested the winning experiment suggestion: wringing out a wet washcloth in space. Few would have guessed what happened next...VIDEO: What Happens When You Wring a Washcloth in Orbit?
On March 28, the new space station commander took this stunning photo of a launching Russian Soyuz rocket as the station passed over Kazakhstan. Hadfieldtweeted this photo
with the words: "Tonight's Finale: Soyuz Rocket Launch — the moment of ignition, as seen from their target, the Space Station." On board the Soyuz was the remaining Expedition 35 crew: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Pavel Vinogradov.ANALYSIS: Astronauts Get Epic View of Launching Soyuz
Cementing his fame in spaceflight history, Chris Hadfield (with the help of his friends and family on the ground) became the first person to produce a music video in space: a cover of David Bowie's classic "Space Oddity."Space Oddity: Astronaut Ends Mission With Music Video
But it wasn't all about social media, playing music and admiring the sights -- the vast majority of the time Hadfield was working on experiments and managing the complex orbiting laboratory. Seen here, the Canadian astronaut is a lab guinea pig, participating in the Blood Pressure Regulation Experiment (BP Reg) -- one of the many medical experiments that are essential in learning how the human physiology reacts to long-duration spaceflight.
On March 3, Hadfield oversaw the successful berthing of the robotic SpaceX Dragon resupply vehicle, using the space station's Canadarm2 robotic arm to grab onto the second commercial delivery to the orbiting outpost. Coincidentally, Hadfield first rose to fame when, in 2001, he became the first Canadian to carry out a spacewalk, helping to install that same Canadarm2.PHOTOS: Astronaut Guide: How to Train Your Dragon
In May, space station business got serious when the astronauts discovered an ammonia leak from the coolant system. Outside, the crew could see flakes of the coolant floating off into space. As space station commander, Hadfield helped formulate a plan to find a fix, eventually overseeing a dramatic emergency spacewalk by NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn. After the suspected faulty ammonia pump was replaced, Hadfield tweeted: "No leaks! We’re bringing Tom & Chris back inside. In two days Tom, Roman & I return to Earth in our Soyuz. This is an amazing place & time."NEWS: Astronauts Fix Mystery Space Station Leak
Like most astronauts who spend time on the space station, photography becomes more than just a hobby; the views afforded to us on the ground by the astronauts in orbit have given us a very privileged view over our planet. At his estimate, Hadfield took around 45,000 photos while in space, each one a gem. Here is Hadfield in the station's windowed cupola where many of the most breathtaking shots were made possible.
On Feb 7, Hadfieldtweeted this strange feature
: "The Taranaki Volcano looks too perfect to be real. pic.twitter.com/3b5fr4IQ"
On April 14, Chris Hadfield posted this odd view of a Brazilian river, lightheartedly tweeting: "I'm used to rivers that know what they're doing. pic.twitter.com/41iOcuZmth" The meandering form of the river is created through many years, decades and centuries of erosion, creating isolated Oxbow Lakes as each meander gets cut off.
While orbiting Earth, Hadfield developed a feeling of "oneness" -- a sentiment that was underscored when he reflected on a photo he took of Syria. During a videoed interview, Hadfield commented on the Syrian conflict, saying: "If people, I think, could see the perspective more clearly... (they would glean) that understanding of the fact that we're all in this together. Yes, there's important territorial issues and important personal issues but at the same time with increased communication and with increased understanding comes a more global perspective,"
Chris Hadfield also captured some cool geological events from orbit, including an eruption of the Italian Mt. Etna on Feb. 28.PHOTO: Astronaut Snaps Photo of Mount Etna Erupting
While the United States and Russia traded sanctions this week in a burgeoning crisis over Crimea, astronauts from both nations rose above the discord in their sanctuary hundreds of miles from Earth.
Experts say mounting political and economic tensions between the old Cold War foes are unlikely to upset cooperation in space at the moment -- something which would be damaging to both sides.
Not that talking politics is taboo aboard the International Space Station (ISS), where Americans and Russians share close quarters, orbiting at an altitude of 248 miles (400 kilometers) over the Earth.
"We could talk about anything. We'd talk about politics," said retired U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao, who commanded the ISS for six months in 2004 and 2005. "With something like this going on, I am sure the crew is talking about it, you know, in a friendly way."
American astronaut Mike Hopkins, upon returning from the ISS earlier this month after a half-year stay, said he considered his Russian counterparts "close friends" and described cooperation as "very strong."
Beyond the personal bonds forged in space, experts say the two lead nations in the 15-country collaboration have to get along because of the way the $100 billion space station was designed.
'Like divorced couple'
The Russian and U.S. sections at the ISS have their own toilets and they have separate air-conditioning systems.
But many complex operations at the football-field-sized orbiting outpost require Russian and U.S. cooperation, both in space and from control centers on the ground.
NASA mission control in Houston leads the effort, and the United States pays for the bulk of the yearly operating costs.
Howard McCurdy, an expert on space policy at American University, said it was not all marital bliss at the ISS.
"It is like a divorced couple trying to live in the same house," he said. "You can do it, it is just not very easy. They both own the house. They both operate the house."
The United States needs Russia to transport astronauts to the space station, and currently pays an average of $70.7 million per seat, according to a NASA spokesman.
The retirement of the U.S. space shuttle program in 2011 left Americans without a vehicle for ferrying crew to low-Earth orbit, and a commercial replacement is not expected to be up and running before 2017.
Reliance on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft is a key reason why the United States cannot break off space ties.
However, the immediate future depends on how Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to U.S. sanctions over Crimea, said John Logsdon, a member of the NASA Advisory Council.
"It is always in Russia's capability to cut off their service," said Logsdon, estimating the likelihood of such an action at 20-25 percent. "It would be a catastrophe. There is mutual dependence and that provides a good motivation to isolate this from the broader issues."
Concerns have been raised about the U.S. reliance on Russian engines to power Atlas V rockets which propel military satellites into space, in case Russia were to cut off supplies.
The Pentagon this week told the U.S. Air Force to conduct a review of its use of the Russian-made RD-180 rocket motor in the Atlas V.
But the Air Force already has a two-year stockpile on hand, so no drastic measures are imminent, a defense official told AFP.
Ready for blast-off
The retired astronaut Chiao said it would take something much worse than the Crimea crisis to sever relations in space.
"I don’t for a second think this is going to happen, but if we and Russia got into a shooting war, that would certainly disrupt operations aboard the station," he said.
NASA also said it foresees no change to relations with Russia in space.
Representatives from Russia, the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe have lived continuously aboard the space station in rotating crews for more than 13 years, and the life of the station was recently extended to 2024.
"We are confident that our two space agencies will continue to work closely as they have throughout various ups and downs of the broader US-Russia relationship," NASA said in a statement to AFP.
On March 25 that relationship will be renewed once more, when one American astronaut climbs into a tightly packed Soyuz spacecraft alongside two Russian cosmonauts.
Together, they will blast off toward the space station to join the three men -- one from Japan, one from America and one from Russia -- who are already there.