Russian leadership's unhinged behavior could cross red line in space partnership, former astronaut says

WATCH NOW: War in Ukraine could put future of space station in doubt, says former astronaut

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could put an end to its partnership with the U.S. and other countries in space, according to former astronaut Terry Virts.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “seems to be bent on destroying his own space industry,” Virts, a former commander of the International Space Station, told Fox News.

“There’s just not a lot of business that’s going to be happening for the Russian space agency in the coming decades because of Putin’s evil war that he’s waging,” Virts said.

He pointed to a lack of innovation in Russia and said that Putin has used oil and gas money to enrich his cronies rather than develop companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin in the U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to female flight attendants in comments broadcast on state television on Saturday, March 5, 2022.
(Reuters Video)

The U.S. relied on Russia for rides to and from the space station after the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011. Launches on American soil resumed in 2020 through a partnership between NASA and SpaceX.

“We don’t have that dependence anymore,” said Virts. “But there’s another dependence, if you will, between Europe and Russia. The Europeans partner with the Russians.”

Seven people currently live aboard the International Space Station (ISS), including four Americans, two Russians, and one German.

The SpaceX Falcon 9, with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of the rocket, sits on Launch Pad 39-A Monday, May 25, 2020, at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Two astronauts will fly on the SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station scheduled for launch on May 27. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Operations have continued as normal as Putin wages war on the ground in Ukraine, according to NASA.

However, Virts said the real concern is the head of the Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin.

FILE – In this Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, Director General of the Russia state corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin walks in Baikonur airport, in Kazakhstan. 
(Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP, file)

“He just threatened that the space station might de-orbit on American or European soil. He said it doesn’t fly over Russian soil, so we don’t need to worry about it,” said Virts, referencing a series of tweets from Rogozin last month.

“His behavior has been very erratic recently, like Putin” Virts told Fox News. “I don’t think anything bad is going to happen. I hope we can maintain our partnership, but the things that Putin has been doing are so dramatically over the red line.”

NASA told Fox News in a statement: “NASA continues working with all our international partners, including the State Space Corporation Roscosmos, for the ongoing safe operations of the International Space Station. No changes are planned to the agency’s support for ongoing in orbit and ground station operations.”

Virts said: “The overriding imperative for NASA and the Russian space agency—we can’t give the crew conflicting directions. We can’t put them at odds with each other.”

“We need to be adults down here on Earth and make sure that we don’t put the crew in that situation,” Virts continued. “I know that NASA’s not going to do that … and I hope that the Russians have the same philosophy.”

Virts commanded the space station in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea. He said during that time, he made a point to eat dinner with his Russian colleagues every night.

“‘Politics is politics,’ is how we would start at every meeting, and ‘let’s just leave what’s happening on Earth on Earth, because we’re just trying to stay alive in space,’ that was our main goal” said Virts. “So, I would expect that they’re being very professional, very friendly with each other.”

Isabelle McDonnell contributed to this report.

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