The End of Human Spaceflight?
The crash of the Russian Progress cargo spacecraft last week could cause an interruption to Earth’s 11 continuous years of manned spaceflight aboard the International Space Station. If the cause of the crash is found to be too serious to correct soon, the unmanned Progress and the manned Soyuz could be grounded and that would result in all remaining crew aboard the ISS returning to the Earth’s surface aboard the Soyuz currently docked at the station. The Russian winter is approaching, which leaves all but emergency landings infeasible after about mid November.
After the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, then U.S. President George W. Bush, acting on recommendations from experts, ordered the gradual retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet. Then, last year, President Obama ordered the defunding of the Constellation program which Bush initiated as a replacement for the shuttle. Constellation wouldn’t have been ready to back up the Soyuz program this soon anyway.
Now the Shuttle is retired, and this combination of events left Soyuz as the only functioning launch system capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the ISS. It is a very good spacecraft, but the fueling system which failed on Progress is similar to the one on Soyuz. NASA’s Space Station Program Manager, Michael Suffredini, said that if NASA isn’t satisfied that the Soyuz is safe, NASA astronauts won’t fly in it.
With the landing of the final Space Shuttle Mission came an end to our country’s human space launch capability that could last until 2015. Now this crash of Progress could mark the temporary end of human spaceflight all together for the entire planet.
Certain research aboard the ISS can continue without people there, some cannot. Still, there are those who have called for NASA funding from other programs to be shifted to Commercial Crew to speed up the efforts of companies like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to develop a replacement lauch system ASAP. Where will that funding be shifted from, important robotic projects? Where will it end?
Here’s a thought, why not quit messing around and actually increase NASA funding to levels where they can do their job? If maintaining our edge in space is important enough to shift funding within NASA, then why isn’t it important enough to shift funding into NASA?
- Will the Space Station be Abandoned? : Discovery News (mbcalyn.wordpress.com)
- While U.S. retreats from it’s past space ambitions, China and other nations aim higher (greginsd.wordpress.com)
- CHANGE: Space Station Could Be Abandoned In November: “Astronauts may need to temporarily withdraw… (pajamasmedia.com)
- Space Station Crew Closely Watching Russian Rocket Crash Investigation (space.com)
- Quirks & Quarks Blog: Russian rocket crash worries NASA (cbc.ca)
- Space station left vulnerable by Russian failure (nature.com)
- Is The Russian Space Program Useless Without NASA? (businessinsider.com)
- Russian Space Station Supply Ship Crashes (time.com)
- Soyuz crash clouds space program (rt.com)