Monday, December 15, 2014

Time to take our ball and go home?

Can't we all just get along?
No, apparently we can't.
So, according to some, Russia is ready to abandon their part of the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020, effectively closing the orbiting facility (Russia says the US modules cannot operate independently from the Russian modules - others disagree with that assertion). Why? Well, I'm sure the Russians have all sorts of reasons, some of which sound pretty plausible...but it likely all boils down to the world's disagreement with Russia's invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

"Let them go!", I say. Though I'm grateful (said through clenched teeth) of Russia's ability and desire to get our astronauts to orbit (Side note: It still angers me that we canceled the Shuttle program before having a viable means of getting astronauts to orbit), I'm tired of their attitude and tantrums. Go ahead - go build Son-of-Mir. My feelings might be a product of my adolescent years being during the Cold War, but I don't trust the Russian government. I. Just. Don't. Of course, I can't say that I like the bozos in D.C. too much, either...but that's a story for another time.

I think the Russian space program has accomplished some impressive feats. Some of their rocket motors - designed and built decades ago - are fine examples of Russian engineering, still held up as being best-of-breed (when they don't, you know, explode). Russia has a proud and strong space history, with many 'firsts' attributed to them. But I still don't trust Russia. I never have...and I don't believe a sustained cooperation with them is possible. I don't think their interests and goals align with ours, and I truly feel we'd both be better served by an amicable divorce rather than the inevitable decline that I see coming.

So, if not Russia, with whom *do* we cooperate? Of course, the top of the list would comprise our friends and allies from ESA, JAXA, CSA, etc. We also have domestic veterans of space, such as ULA (a consortium comprised of Boeing and Lockheed Martin). Then there are the new upstarts in spaceflight: the private industry. SpaceX, like them or not, is compiling an impressive record of successful launches, and was awarded one of two contracts as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program (the other was Boeing). Orbital Sciences, though recently dealt a blow with the failure of their Antares rocket shortly after liftoff, has also shown a capability to get hardware to space. Bigelow Aerospace has some interesting designs for "inflatable modules" as alternatives to the traditional rigid station concepts (though, for the love of all that is good and holy, Bigelow, *please* hire a competent web designer because your site is atrocious) and will be supplying a test article for installation on the ISS some time in 2015.

Listen to the man.
Can NASA go it alone? Yes...but they don't need to. However, they also don't need Russia...well, at least not after we have an operational Commercial Crew Program. At that point, I hope we bid Russia a fond 'do svidaniya' and resume our nation's impressive space-fairing capabilities. It's been 42 years since humans last set foot on the moon. That's too long, and we're wasting our time with a "partner" that doesn't help us get back to deep space. We need to refocus our energies into specific goals, with friends that want to help us achieve the next steps in making us a multi-planet species. Though the movie was terrible, 'Interstellar' did have a good line that is apropos: "Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here." Let's. Get. Going.

I'd love to know what you think - please leave a comment below. Thanks again for visiting!