With the Russian conflict in Georgia in the News something else has been left by the wayside and must be considered in the coming administration. Russia is our major partner in the International Space Station. Several bad things could happen if the Russians decide to use the ISS as a bargaining tool in international relations.
Russia is being counted on to be the SOLE supplier of flights to the International Space Station once the Shuttle is decommissioned in 2010. When the Shuttle is gone, there will be a 3-5 year period where only the Soyuz capsules will be able to fly to the ISS. One of three scenarios could happen.
One - the Russians cooperate fully and choose not to use access to the ISS as a pawn in international relations in order to project to the world that they are peaceable people only bent on cooperation in space. This shining example of cooperation serves to maintain the status quo in the ISS partnership.
Two - The Russians decline to cooperate and stop all Progress and Soyuz flights to the space station. 6 months later, baring an ESA ATV booster flight, the unmanned, $100 million Space Station runs out of maneuvering fuel and enters the atmosphere and tumbles to Earth in pieces. Another victim of the poor planning of the Bush Administration.
Three - The Russians use this opportunity to SEIZE control of the ISS and deny access to it by US or ESA personnel. The American crewman are removed and summarily booted out of Russia and all cooperation on the project is stopped. Meanwhile, the US is faced with a choice of allowing the de facto control to continue or doing something about it.
What needs to happen.
Well, we could do several things. One of which is to stop development of Orion/Constellation as a US proprietary system. Instead, we develop Orion as a cooperative program with the ESA with the manned Capsule as an element attached to the ESA ATV. This way, the spacecraft could perform both the access to the Space Station and resupply missions and further cooperation with our European partners. One future version of the ATV was a manned "Crew Transfer Vehicle" or CTV which would be attached to the front of the ATV. The Orion capsule could be that vehicle. Since it is already in advanced stages of design and development, we could get with our European partners to intergrate these programs and allow the US to have access to the Space Station in the interium period.
See the following for further information: http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/ATV/SEMNFZOR4CF_0.html
The other scenario will be that the shuttle program is kept in service beyond 2010 and continues to fly to the space station, so that we maintain acess to it. This will result in a delay in the Orion/Constellation program as they will need to construct propitary launch facilities rather than reuse the Shuttle facilities as originally proposed. The Orion/Constellation program continues, albeit at a slower pace. This will also require vast increases in funding for NASA as this will not be cheap.
Another sceneraio is a combination of the two. Continue the shuttle program while developing the manned Orion/ATV concept. Make the manned element of the space craft launched by the Ariane 5 rocket and continue the develop of the Ares V to launch the heavy cargo and Altair Lunar Module segments of the program. Intergrate our European partners into the program and make the whole thing an international program. The Russians and Chinese could also be asked to participate as well. Barring the Russian and Chinese cooperation, we would still have access to the ISS in this sceneraio
The more likely scenario is that we do nothing an allow another foolish escalation in a world that is already going mad by the day
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