Europe’s Joint Mars Mission with Russia Delayed by War

02 March 2022

The European Space Agency says the launch of a joint Europe-Russia mission to Mars this year is now "very unlikely" because of sanctions linked to the war in Ukraine.

The European Union and many other nations and groups have placed restrictive measures on Russia for invading Ukraine.

The space agency said after a meeting Monday that it was examining the effects of sanctions on its cooperation with Russia's Roscosmos space agency.

This illustration made available by the European Space Agency shows the European-Russian ExoMars rover. (European Space Agency via AP)
This illustration made available by the European Space Agency shows the European-Russian ExoMars rover. (European Space Agency via AP)

The agency said in a statement, "The sanctions and the wider context make a launch in 2022 very unlikely," for the Europe-Russia ExoMars vehicle mission.

The mission had already faced delays caused by the coronavirus outbreak and technical problems.

It was then set to launch in September 2022 from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan using a Russian rocket.

Delaying a launch often means waiting months or years until the next time the planet's placement in space makes a launch possible.

The goal of the ExoMars mission is to put Europe's first vehicle, called a rover, on the red planet. The rover will help scientists investigate whether there has ever been life on Mars. It is extremely difficult to put a vehicle on the red planet. A test rover launched in 2016 crash-landed on the planet.

On February 26, Roscosmos said it was pulling its workers from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. Several European satellites have been launched with Russian rockets from there, and more were planned over the coming year.

French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier in February that Europe needs a stronger space policy. While Europe has its own rockets to put satellites around the planet, it needs its Russian and American partners to send astronauts into space.

International Space Station

Kathy Lueders is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) head of space operations. She said on Monday that the agency is operating the International Space Station with Russian support and input, as usual. She added that flight control teams are still communicating, training and working together.

"Obviously, we understand the global situation, where it is, but as a joint team, these teams are operating together," Lueders said.

The United States and Russia are the main operators of the space station. It is a partnership of five space agencies. Four Americans, two Russians and a German are currently at the station.

"We've operated in these (kinds) of situations before and both sides always operated very professionally," Lueders said.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei is planned to return to Earth at the end of March with two Russians in a Russian spacecraft called a Soyuz capsule. Lueders said that plan is still set to happen.

Russian spacecraft had been the only way to and from space between 2011 and 2020. NASA's spacecraft, called shuttles, were retired in 2011. SpaceX's first crew flight launched in 2020.

I'm Gregory Stachel.

Frank Jordans reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional material from Reuters.


Words in This Story

mission – n. a flight by an aircraft or spacecraft to perform a specific task

sanctions – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country or by not allowing economic aid for that country

context – n. the situation in which something happens: the group of conditions that exist where and when something happens

obviously – adv. used to emphasize that you are talking about something that is easy to see, understand, or recognize

global – adj. involving the entire world

spacecraft – n. a vehicle that is used for travel in outer space

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