An Atlas V rocket carrying a U.S. military weather satellite was launched into space, but with the lift-off comes questions about the rocket's future and the United States’ strong ties to Russia through the space program.
The rocket, carrying the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program-19 spacecraft, blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's Central Coast at 7:46 a.m. PDT Thursday, headed for a polar orbit.
NASA announced Wednesday it plans to cut virtually all ties to the Russian space program. The only exception, for now, is the International Space Station. The announcement comes amid tensions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea away from Ukraine.
The Atlas V rocket plays heavily into all this. The engines which power the rocket are made by Russia.
The Air Force says the weather program's satellites have been the primary provider of terrestrial and space weather information to the U.S. military for 50 years.
But, earlier this week, the Pentagon asked the Air Force to investigate whether using Russian engines on American rockets -- like the Atlas V, which carries the satellites into orbit -- poses a national security risk.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also said he has serious concerns, agreeing that the U.S. needs to take a closer look at the issue.
Even Elon Musk has chimed in. Musk is the head of Tesla Motors and Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX, which makes and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. He says it is in the "long-term security interest" of the U.S. to build the rocket engines domestically.
No doubt, Musk would love for SpaceX to build them -- in the U.S.
The debate is intensifying with NASA's announcement that they are suspending ties with the Russian government -- except for the International Space Station.
In a statement, NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said:
"The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It’s that simple."
NASA pays Russia more than $70 million every time an American flies into space on a Russian rocket.
Right now, there are two Americans on board the space station
The weather satellite was built by Lockheed Martin.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.