NASA this week condemned Russia for using the International Space Station to “support its war against Ukraine” in a rare display of politics.
“NASA strongly rebukes Russia using the International Space Station for political purposes to support its war against Ukraine, which is fundamentally inconsistent with the station’s primary function among the 15 international participating countries to advance science and develop technology for peaceful purposes,” the agency said in a statement emailed to reporters on Thursday.
The statement appears to be referring to photos posted by the Russian space agency on Monday of three cosmonauts aboard the space station holding flags of the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, which are two Russian-backed, breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.
The post called the takeover of the region a “great victory” that was celebrated “both on Earth and in space.”
NASA has attempted to remain apolitical during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, instead focusing on the collaborative research efforts of the space station, which is staffed by both Americans and Russians.
“I see nothing that has interrupted that professional relationship,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at a Senate hearing in May. “No matter how awful Putin is conducting a war with such disastrous results in Ukraine.”
It’s unclear if the incident will affect the operations of the space station, but it does represent an escalation of tensions between the two countries. And the U.S. isn’t the only country offering its rebuke of the photos.
The leader of the European Space Agency tweeted that it is “unacceptable that the ISS becomes a platform to play out the political or humanitarian crises happening on the ground.”