Monday, May 19, 2014

In which Russia takes its toys and goes home (or at least threatens to)

Perhaps not surprisingly, Russia has announced it would deny the US further use of the International Space Station (the United States was in fact suggested a trampoline as means of getting into space). Russia also, evidently, plans to leave the ISS by 2020 (its original mission target). This is after Russia's recent actions in Ukraine, and the sanctions the US (and allies) want to impose on Russia. This is also after the existing crew on the ISS kept working in harmony, or at least through a mutual notion of survival and professionalism, through said actions in Ukraine. Of course, cooperation with Russia was subsequently suspended.

NASA's space shuttle program ended in August of 2011.  Project Orion is slated to be NASA's new workhorse. The test launch is currently scheduled for September of this year, powered by a Delta 4 heavy rocket, and the idea is for it to carry humans by 2021. It's my understanding that Orion is the means by which NASA intends to grab an asteroid and bring it on home for an orbital science environment. Which is great. I'm glad we have something in the works, I'm actually really excited for the asteroid thing, which clicks well with my creative mind.

But. Uh. How will we get to the ISS in the meanwhile? We've been relying on Soyuz for years, since we lost our own ride before a new one was ready (Budget is the bad word when it comes to NASA, I'd say). SpaceX has three successful cargo missions under its belt now, with its most recent splashdown yesterday morning, but cargo and humans are not the same thing. SpaceX wants to have a manned flight by next year, but of SpaceX employees, not NASA astronauts. Boeing, in 2012, said it wanted to fly astronauts to the ISS "as early as 2015 or 2016." As of two days ago, Boeing's test flight is scheduled for 2016, with assembly beginning at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Oh and evidently (perhaps hilariously?) Virgin Galactic flights do not, technically, bring you into space. Very close, yes. But not actually space.

After all this time in space, even after working cooperatively with long-time frenemies, it seems ridiculous to be suddenly grounded. There's budget, of course. There's public opinion, I'm sure; a lot of people don't see the "point" of space. And space costs a lot, when you look at lump sums, though let me direct you again to Things That Cost More Than Space Exploration.


  1. Dude. I'm saying this might be the best thing to happen for the space program. Because GOD FORBID OUR FRENIEMY HAS BIGGER BETTER TOYS THEN WE DO.

    1. In a way it IS the best recent thing to happen for the space program, especially if the DoD people decide not having US based space access puts things like defense satellite launches at risk. Which is kind of is; we just purchased a number of rockets from Russia, who's saying "You can have these, as long as they aren't for military use." I think at least some of them were supposed to be for military use. And I don't think we should've been dependent on another country for something so important (that we had such a tremendous handle on...) anyway.