On @ The 90 – Change the Paradigm

It should be apparent to all that reliance on Russia is no longer an option. Image Credit: Jason Rhian

For some time now Russia has been touted as our “partner” in space flight matters – the simple fact is that anyone honest with themselves will say that Russia, at best, considers the U.S. customers and at worst the U.S. is viewed as competitors. Why? Simple, a review of recent Russian comments and actions would force the staunchest supporter of Russia to acknowledge that they have behaved in anything but a spirit of “cooperation. “ 

First, as the shuttle program neared its end they raised the cost of a seat on the Soyuz Spacecraft from $58 to $63 million. By changing the price so close to the shuttle’s retirement date the U.S. had no choice but to comply. 

When SpaceX announced that it wanted to send the next Dragon Spacecraft to the International Space Station the Russians said, “Nyet.” Not until the new craft had proven it could dock with the orbiting laboratory safely. Ironically SpaceX seems to be flying with no issues – a statement that Russia can no longer make. 

When NASA wanted to obtain priceless and historic images of spacecraft from all the major partners at the station at one time (Russia, Europe, Japan and the U.S.) the Russian’s again responded in the negative citing safety concerns. Given that their latest Progress’ debris is decorating the Siberian wasteland – perhaps this was the correct decision to make after all. 

When Atlantis ended the shuttle program by safely landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida – Russia wasted little time in showing their true colors. First the Russians stated that the “Soyuz Epoch” had begun and then they stated that their intent to dump the International Space Station into the Pacific Ocean by 2020. Whether this threat was genuine or merely an attempt to get more money from the U.S. – it spelled out one thing clearly – Russia is not – by any stretch of the imagination, our partner. 

With Russia out (at least temporarily) of the human space flight equation there is talk now of abandoning the space station (again at least temporarily) in November. This would only occur if Russia could not figure out what had gone wrong with their launch vehicle. This would mark the first time in a decade that the $100 billion research facility had gone without a crew. Russia has also pushed back the next crewed launch by at least a month. 

What these separate elements point out is the glaring need for the U.S. to have multiple launch vehicles at its disposal. Think of it this way, if the U.S. has man-rated Atlas, Delta IV, Falcon 9 and Liberty rockets and there is a problem with one of them – you simply use one of the other launch vehicles to reach orbit – no gap, no reliance on foreign “partners” and much more self-reliance. Making this concept even better would be the inclusion of numerous, affordable spacecraft and a universal mating adapter. 

Recent events have made one thing abundantly clear – it is that the U.S. can no longer afford to depend on Russia, or any one else, when it comes to access to space. It also highlights the folly of the relying on a singular spacecraft design. Although Russia launches cargo and crew separately – they do so on the same Soyuz rocket. The U.S. was in a somewhat similar paradigm in that both cargo and crew launches to the space station on the same vehicle (the space shuttle). With the shuttle retired and the Russian “issue” made obvious to all – the best thing that the U.S. can do is break the paradigm, diversify its launch capabilities and in so doing reclaim its space flight lead.

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2 comments to On @ The 90 – Change the Paradigm

  • mike shupp

    I don’t disagree with this all that much, but it’s possible you’re being a bit unreasonable. The Russians are proud people, much like Americans, with significiant accomplishments in space, much like Americans, and they resented being pushed around by foreigners when they were broke, much like Americans.

    Consider, when the Russians thought of selling the old Mir space station to a commercial company, who objected? Russian bureaucrats? or Americans, holding up the lure of future bilateral space programs if only Russia deorbited Mir? Consider that even before that, when American astronauts traveled to Mir, they generally behaved like aristocrats forced to slum among the peasants while they were in space. (I recommend a book called DRAGONFLY by Brian Burrough). Consider that until the 2008 election, it was AMERICAN policy that the ISS should be dropped in the ocean BY 2015, and no, we did not poll the station’s “international parties” before declaring that goal.

    Let’s grant, there are complicated reasons for American actions. I don’t think the Russians really understand that Congress and the White House can have different views of space policy, for example, and that as a result NASA doesn’t have much freedom of action (I don’t think a lot of Americans get that point either). But what strikes me is that the USA has consistently thrown its weight about, using its technological superiority (shuttle) and its wealth to get its way in space, while tossing out sound bites about equality and cooperation.

    Now its our turn to be on the receiving end of this sort of crap, and it doesn’t feel very good. So what’s the cure? Especially, what’s the cure if people in Washington don’t want to spend money on space progams and don’t have any idea of wthat they might be good for?

  • Only the US and Russia can be considered true masters of all stages of space operations and humans reaching orbit has been achieved by only a few chosen countries.From the beginning of the space race it was understood that a Russian US partnership would in the end benefit the US space program. The demanding exactitude and multiple system redundancy needed for zero failure rate in space requires a budget that is a huge burden for any one country. Space operations from conception to mission completion are the most complex undertakings ever attempted by human kind. The reality is that without international partnerships US space operations would not be possible. We as a country need to work with other countries to maximize the potential of the worlds resources.All future space activities will be international in nature and if we attempt to go it alone we will invariably be left behind. These international partnerships will be of great benefit to US industry by raising up the whole ‘ship’ and increasing our potential in the world markets. I have a dream that space will offer the opportunity for all nations to join together, in peace, to explore and make use of the resources that space offers. The challenges that must be overcome in space exploration(robotic or human) are far to great for any one nation. It will be a world wide effort and all will need to be included equally.