“I’ll take ‘Space’ for $100B Alex”

“Russia, South Ossetia, Georgia and the ISS.”

“What is – How the US could find itself locked out of the ISS after 2010 Alex”

Russia’s invasion and occupation of South Ossetia could have far reaching effects off world.  In a scenario strikingly reminiscent of the movie, 2010, increased tensions between the US and Russia now cold lead to the loss of US access to the ISS for at least 4 or 5 years.  Yep – the same ISS the US has put over $100 billion (that’s Billion with a capital “B” by GAO estimates) could be blocked to US and international partner access, save Russia, after 2011 if an agreement to allow our astronauts to continue to ride Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS is allowed to expire in 2009.  Bad as that is, the infuriating thing is we have no one to blame but our own short-sighted selves for this state of affairs.

It began when we put all our manned spaceflight eggs in the Shuttle basket, eschewing further development of traditional rockets for manned space boosters.  Experience with operating the shuttle feet and the losses of first the Challenger and later Columbia unmasked the fallacy of that policy, and so now, 30 years after the last Apollo mission, we have Apollo on steroids, the Constellation program, which maybe will reach IOC with the first manned launch in seven years, 2015.  Barring, of course, more major technical issues.  In the meantime, the Bush administration has decided to end the shuttle’s operations by 2010, meaning from this point, after next month’s shuttle flight to re-service the Hubble, there will be only 9 flights left.  The gap-filler is a contract, with Russia, to fly US and international partner astronauts on Soyuz which expires in 2012.  And that is possible only because of a waiver to the Iran-North Korea-Syria Non-Proliferation Act which forbids U.S. purchase of high technology goods from Russia. A new contract (and exemption) were being held-up in Congress which had put it on the back burner (along with all sorts of other legislation) before it went into recess and now, with the Russian invasion of Georgia, it’s likely there won’t be any action soon on the new contract for the remainder of this year and likely as not, in 2009 either.  And therein lies the problem, for the Soyuz production line requires about a three year planning process for new modules.  Without an agreement, extra modules for supporting transport of our astronauts to ISS in 2012 and beyond, will not be made.

soyuz spacecraft

So now, according to current NASA administrator Mike Griffin, he is looking into extending the shuttle past 2010:

…The first and most obvious possibility is there won’t be any American or international partners on the space station after Dec. 31 of 2011. That’s a possibility. Another possibility is that we will be told to continue flying shuttle and we would be given extra money to do so, in which case our Ares and Orion could be kept on track and we would no longer have a dependence on Russia.

“A third possibility is we could be told to keep flying shuttle, not be given any extra money, in which case we don’t get Ares and Orion anytime soon and we still have a gap, it’s just further out in time. All right? And all of these things ignore the fact that flying shuttle does not ameliorate in truth our dependence upon the Russians because we still need them for crew rescue. So if we continue to fly shuttle, either we’re flying without crew rescue capability, in other words putting crew on station and then leaving them there without a way to get home in an emergency, which we have never done, or our tenure on station is only during the two weeks you get when the shuttle visits a couple of times a year.”(Emphasis added)

To say this sad sate of affairs fully reflects the abysmal lack of vision, planning and funding on the part of several administrations and Congress would be a gross understatement.  NASA as well, holds plenty of blame, especially in decades worth of gross mismanagement and lack of vision.  And now, all those chickens are coming home to roost as the agency is forced to look at extending a prohibitively expensive and aging system to avoid the prospect of not having access to a system we have put the majority of funds into to build and operate.

Short-sighted vision.

Bad policy.

Haphazard funding.

It’s a rotten way to run any program, much less a space program.

In 1971, when the Nixon Administration was looking at canceling the Apollo program and not approving the development of the Space Shuttle – then Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Casper Weinberger stated that such a policy: “…would be confirming in some respects a belief that I fear is gaining credence at home and abroad: That our best years are behind us, that we are turning inward, reducing our defense commitments, and voluntarily starting to give up our super-power status and our desire to maintain world superiority.” Three and a half decades later this seems equally valid, if not more so given the increased number of countries that are making significant investments in space.  Both candidates are generally supportive of the America’s space program, but neither seems to go beyond generalizations and more of the same – the same thought processes that have put us where we presently find ourselves.

Something needs to be done to re-awaken the excitement and sense of purpose present in the early 60’s following Kennedy’s call for a landing on the Moon.  Something that will inspire a nation to look beyond its nose, to grow a new generation of scientists and engineers, to inspire a public to “look at the way thigs could be and ask, ‘why not’ “

And maybe 2010 will be the year we keep contact…