Confusion reigns over momentous joint US-Russian Mars mission that NASA denies

30 Mar 2015

The Russian Soyuz 39 spacecraft (foreground) and Progress 55 spacecraft, docked to the ISS, are featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 40 crew member. Image via NASA

After news emerged that Russia’s space agency Roscosmos had confirmed a joint US-Russian mission to send people to Mars, confusion emerged after NASA distanced itself from any supposed deal.

With tensions between the US and Russia continuing to escalate politically, it had appeared that at least when it came to space, both the US space agency and Roscosmos could put aside national differences for the benefit of future space travel, especially considering the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is the only place currently when astronauts and cosmonauts can take off from.

This seemed to be confirmed on Saturday when Russia Today, Russia’s state broadcaster, reported that Roscosmos had officially announced an exciting US-Russian partnership that planned to develop another space station after the retirement of the International Space Station (ISS) in 2024 with further plans to get astronauts to Mars.

According to the report, Roscosmos’ chief Igor Komarov, “We have agreed that Roscosmos and NASA will be working together on the program of a future space station. This is very important to future missions and stations.”

This had contradicted Roscosmos’ previous statements which appeared to show that it was towing the line with Moscow and that it would look to build its own station after the retirement of the ISS.

Did Roscosmos jump the gun?

However, both these statements appear to have been made without consultation with NASA responding to press enquiries about the announcement with denials that any deal had been signed.

“No new partnerships were announced,” said the NASA statement to Engadget. Furthermore, in a follow-up statement, NASA appeared wanting to remain open to the idea, while dismissing a joint operation.

The US is planning to lead a human mission to Mars in the 2030s, and we have advanced that effort farther than at any point in NASA’s history,” the statement said. “We welcome international support for this ambitious undertaking.”

Seemingly, it appears that Roscosmos has jumped the gun on a potential future announcement following the launch of the latest crew to the ISS, two of which will be sent on a year-long mission to the station.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic