Friday, August 22, 2008

Spying from I.S.S.

Russia has claimed humanitarian motives in its use of the International Space Station (ISS) to collect overhead imagery of South Ossetia shortly after it invaded the breakaway Georgian province.

On Aug. 9 Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko used a digital camera equipped with an 800mm telephoto lens and a video camera to photograph "after-effects of border conflict operations in the Caucasus," according to the ISS status report for that day published by NASA on its website.

Use of the space station for military purposes would violate the Jan. 29, 1998, ISS cooperation agreement between NASA and the Russian Space Agency, which makes repeated references to the civil nature of the orbiting facility.

"The Space Station together with its additions of evolutionary capability will remain a civil station, and its operation and utilization will be for peaceful purposes, in accordance with international law," reads Article 14 of the agreement.

Apparently with that language in mind, Russia's space agency Roscosmos informed the U.S. space agency that Kononenko's actions two days after Russian forces moved into South Ossetia were not military in nature.

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