While the United States space program remains adrift and underfunded, a Wednesday story in the Moscow Times reports that the Russian Federation is providing a huge boost to its own space effort. Russia intends to spend the equivalent of $52 billion through 2020 to modernize its space infrastructure and capabilities. Russia is also moving toward space cooperation with China, which has its own space ambitions, including a space station and an eventual manned lunar landing.
For the past 20 years, Russia has been a space partner to the United States, with which it jointly operates the International Space Station. It also has provided rides for astronauts to the ISS on its Soyuz spacecraft. But that arrangement seems to be coming to an end.
Russia has already announced that it will no longer participate in the space station program after 2020, effectively ending the program. It has also prohibited the use of Russian rocket engines on American military space launches. These moves are seen as a retaliation for economic sanctions for Russian aggression against the Ukraine.
In the meantime, Russia has recently announced that it intends to establish a lunar base by 2030. The United States currently has foresworn any lunar ambitions, though there are a number of private lunar efforts in the works, such as the Google Lunar X Prize competition and a company called Golden Spike which proposes commercial crewed lunar landings. Aside from the scientific and commercial benefits of a lunar return, Russia would have wiped out the humiliation of losing the last moon race in 1969 if the United States is not also on the moon by 2030.
The establishment of a Russia-Chinese space bloc could be an ominous development since it would combine the efforts of two ambitious space powers which violate human rights and have demonstrated imperial ambitions at home. While Congress has started to ask questions about the implications of this new development, the reaction by NASA has been decidedly non-existent. The policy appears to be that of waiting and seeing and hoping that the problem will go away on its own accord.