U. S., Russia Respond to Sanctions with Cooperation in Space Station Debris Avoidance Maneuver

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Within hours of a challenge to their growing alliance in space, NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, demonstrated their resolve to sustain a hard fought partnership in the support of the 15 nation International Space Station.

Late Wednesday, NASA announced the U.S. was severing most of its cooperative ties with Russian over alleged violations of Ukrainian sovereignty. The one exception was cooperation in activities aboard the International Space Station, whose difficult orbital assembly began in late 1998.

On Thursday, the U. S. and Russia demonstrated their resolve to overfly terrestrial differences by teaming to maneuver the ISS away from the threat of collision with a piece of orbital debris -- a payload deployment mechanism from a European Ariane 5 rocket.

International Space Station united 15 nations in Earth orbit.  Photo Credit: NASA

A near four minute avoidance maneuver, calculated by NASA's Mission Control Center in Houston and carried out with thrusters on the Progress cargo module docked to the Russian segment Zvezda service module, unfolded at 4:42 p.m., EDT. Had the ISS not raised its altitude by a half-mile, the rogue debris was projected to pass within 1,100 feet of the six person station at 7:02 p.m., EST, according to NASA estimates.

ISS commander Koichi Wakata, of Japan, and his two American and three Russian crewmates were informed of the threat, though they were never in danger, according to NASA.

It was in late 2000 that the ISS began a post Cold War tradition of having at least one Russian and one American aboard the ISS at all times.

"Given Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, NASA is suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation," the U.S. space agency announced in an April 2 statement. "NASA and Roscosmos will, however, continue to work together to maintain safe and continuous operation of the International Space Station."

An early test of that resolve, suggests that is so.

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