Get PJ Media on your Apple

Time to End Our Dependence on Russian Spaceships

The crisis in the Ukraine shows the insanity of relying on Russia to get us to the ISS.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

March 5, 2014 - 11:35 pm
<- Prev  Page 2 of 2   View as Single Page

Thus, use of the Dragon now would have two benefits. First, we could stop depending on the Russians for access to the ISS immediately, and stop shipping money to a nation that is not merely indifferent to our security, but clearly now outright hostile to it. Second, it would more than double the value of a space facility in which we’ve invested tens of billions and continue to spend billions per year.

Why don’t we?

Ostensibly it is because we don’t want to lose another astronaut crew, though even without its launch abort system currently in development, the Falcon-9/Dragon combination is probably as, or more, reliable at this point than anything we flew in the 1960s. The launcher has had several successful flights with no significant failures, and the capsule has been to orbit and back safely several times. The same would apply for the Atlas V, with its long string of successful flights, and the Boeing Crew Space Transportation (CST) capsule as its payload, another proposed Commercial Crew solution, though the CST is not as far along in its development, and hasn’t had a test flight yet. Adding an abort system will improve the safety of the system, but that doesn’t mean that it is “unsafe” now. “Safe” and “unsafe” are not binary conditions – they are a continuum.

But even if the systems are as “unsafe” as some critics imply, what does it say about the nature of our space goals, not to mention nuclear non-proliferation, that we are unwilling to risk the lives of brave Americans who signed up to be astronauts to accomplish those goals? I would postulate that most, if not all of them would take umbrage at the notion that they are not willing to hazard themselves for their country, as did their forebears in Apollo. The notion that “safety is the highest priority,” as several in Congress have said in the past few years, is stark testimony to how unimportant those same congresspeople think it is to open the harshest final frontier, or to save thousands of earthly lives through medical and other breakthroughs. It trivializes the astronauts’ accomplishments, and makes it difficult to justify the billions that we spend on them. It is long past time for such thinking to end and, for the first time since the moon race, to take American spaceflight seriously again. On SpaceX’s next ISS flight in a couple weeks, SpaceX and NASA should move heaven and earth to have an astronaut aboard.

<- Prev  Page 2 of 2   View as Single Page
Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (18)
All Comments   (18)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
The crisis in the Ukraine shows the insanity of US foreign policy that uses NGOs and agent provocateurs to do the dirty work of empire.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh so what...cooperation is NOT a bad thing..........
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Splitting from the Russians is not just a transport issue. ISS is a joint venture. Splitting would almost certainly end the ISS.
Might not be the worst outcome, but should be considered.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nuts.

Space is a loser.

Let the Russians continue to lose money on the space race.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Note that using boosters and spacecraft built by private firms under government contracts is the way the unmanned side of the US space program has been done since the very start. This is heralded as a tremendous new innovation in some quarters, but it's business as usual for everyone but the manned space people.

And a key element of that business is a government ability to ensure that what is being purchased meets requirements and is safe for both the government personnel who will fly aboard it and the general public, who could be exposed to the launch hazard. Many people touting "commercial" solutions forget that, if they ever knew it.

As for the Atlas V, it is a tremendously successful program, developed under the control of the USAF, as was the Delta IV - while NASA was spending its money on the unsuccessful X-33 as a Shuttle replacement. But - the Atlas V uses Russian designed and built engines. Use of the RD-180 was one of the very few options available to US firms after US rocket engine development as well as most production of new engines was abandoned as a result of the decision to rely on the Space Shuttle. By the way, in that same era, we took 25 Atlas boosters we had in storage and ran bulldozers over them, since the Shuttle meant they would never be needed.

The number of truly horrific decisions made relative to the US Space Program is simply incredible.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agreed. But the "fantasy" is thinking this "crisis" would not have happened if only Bo Jangles was not the president. Actually, back in the day, namely the cold war, colleges used to teach Russian history. The Rus originated in the Ukraine. The Russians are not going to let the Ukraine go anymore than the Americans are going to let the former provinces of Mexico rejoin Mexico.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank a democrat controlled congress trying to sabotage a republican president. Thank the GOP for reaching a bipartisan compromise with the democrats.

Thank the news media for giving voice to the faction that wants federal spending to trickle through their hands on the way to 'help the poor'.

Thank the politicians who don't have to courage or vision to defend a future.

Thank your neighbors who vote without thinking, who vote without doing their home work, who vote democrat blindly accepting what they are told.

There is a lot of blame to go around, but the purpose of leadership is doing the right thing for the right reason despite vocal opposition.

Hell, we don't even have a maritime navy, or adequate land or air based military, let alone a rational space program.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jim Oberg says: Temporary lack of independent access is uncomfortable and constrictive in many ways, and must end, but balance it with Russia's lack of anywhere to GO without the ISS and US services available there. It's a mutual co-dependence that has surprised me with its stability. Also "NASA has found it difficult to have more than one crew member doing actual research" overlooks the fact that most operation of station science gear is teleoperation via the awesome near-continuous multi-megabit/sec comm links [Russia piggybacks there, too], with on average three or four project scientists at their keyboards interacting with the in-space instruments. Crew participation is largely the critical setup and maintenance work. More on-orbit science time is certainly desirable, particularly non-programmed whimsical followup of 'funnies' that only on-scene humans can notice. We need to clone Don Pettit.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Assuming that the lifeboat requirement is justified (dozens winter over annually at Amundsen-Scott station at the South Pole with no means of evacuation)..."

South Pole Station crew won't die in the event of a pinhole leak, seal failure or loss of power - and they are only hours away from rescue by ski-equipped aircraft.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Skis find it tough to slide over snow so cold it doesn't melt under pressure, making the coefficient of friction more like desert sand. -- Jim Oberg
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's amazing how much has changed for the ISS so quickly. There are currently about four separate, non-Russkie cargo ship systems for resupplying the ISS, of which the Falcon/Dragon is the best known.

In view of the designed-by-committee flying widowmaker that was the Space Shuttle (it never HAD an escape system, except for the two ejection seats that John Young and Bob Crippen rode in the first flight) the idea that we can't fly the Dragonrider without its "integrated pusher" escape system is a hoot. As soon as the Common Berthing Mechanism is up and in place I say go for it and let the rotten, corrupt remnants of Baikonur sink back into the desert sands.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 Next View All