NASA Administrator Bill Nelson meets with Ukrainian President Zelensky

Last Tuesday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson hosted Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. 

“It was an honor to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this morning,” said Nelson. This meeting came ahead of Zelensky’s meeting with President Biden on Wednesday. In an official statement published on NASA’s media website, Nelson said of the meeting: “We discussed our renewed commitment to partnership in space, our shared interest in exploration and discovery, and the importance of international cooperation for achieving mutual ambitions in space.”

Last year, Ukraine became the 9th country to sign onto NASA’s Artemis accords.  The Accords outline NASA’s plan to reach the Moon by 2024, while maintaining peaceful relations with international partners. The accords didn’t pass without controversy, however. Notably absent from the signees, Russia criticized the agreement, citing it as a way for the US to codify its dominance in space.

Ukraine and Russia have also had an extreme conflict with one another in recent years.  A study conducted by the IMF concluded that by 2016, Ukraine’s space sector had lost up to 80% of its total revenue as a result of the conflict in Crimea. Prior to the occupation in 2014, Ukraine’s space program operated in conjunction with Roscosmos, Russia’s space program. This cooperation has largely stalled in recent years, especially after Russia announced it would no longer purchase Ukraine’s Zenit launch vehicles. 

Tracing its origins to 1937, the Ukraine space program played a major role in the USSR’s race to space. The country’s scientists helped develop Vostok 1, which is the spacecraft that thrust Yuri Gagarin into history as the first person to reach space.  After the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine inherited roughly one-third of its space program, positioning it as a major player.  More recently, Ukraine helped develop Orbital Science’s (now Northrop Grumman) Antares rocket which would be the primary launch vehicle for Cygnus-based resupply missions to the international space station.  

Given Ukraine’s deep connections to space travel, Zelensky’s meeting with Administrator Nelson could signal a potential revival of their space program in the coming years.

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