So when, at a panel during the 33rd annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, the head of the Russian space agency says things like "How should we collaborate for the benefit of all of us to get the best result?" and "We need to find the way how can we do it together," nobody seems to question his motives.
Which maybe they should have, since that country's space agency, Roscosmos, hasn't sent significant representation to the symposium in over 20 years. During this panel, which included 14 other space-agency leaders, Roscosmos general director—a dark, handsome man named Igor Komarov—puts special emphasis his country's desire to collaborate with the fledgling space programs of emerging nations, like Vietnam and Venezuela. Komarov sticks to feel-good terms like "cooperate" and "collaborate" when he talks about international partnerships—which he and other Roscosmos reps do throughout the symposium. But his agency's motivation seems more about another C-word: customers. Last year, the Russian government restructured Roscosmos as a state-run corporation, and the cash-strapped organization is using these altruistic overtures to cultivate nascent space programs into new customers dependent on Russia's 60 years of orbital expertise.
Russia is, of course, not the only space organization looking to profit in the name of higher ideals—SpaceX can only reach Mars and save civilization if it launches a lot of satellites. And mutually beneficial partnerships have been key to space exploration since the fall of communism gave way to the idea that space exists beyond the borders and nationalism of Earth. But such idealism overlooks the endeavor's roots in the fertile soil of nationalist competition, the still-present remnants of that country-centricity, and something else: money.