What Will Happen to the International Space Station?

iss imageThis photo of the International Space Station was snapped by an STS-133 crew member on the space shuttle Discovery on March 7, 2011. Image Credit: NASA

It’s started. Not quite three years since the last shuttle flew, the Russian government has threatened to pull support from the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020. NASA has hoped that the ISS could operate through 2024, possibly even as far out as 2028 – which extends its original lifespan, which I believe was 15-20 years.

The Russian government has also decided to block the U.S. from using Russian NK-33 and RD-180 rockets to launch U.S. military satellites due to the growing tensions between the two resulting from U.S. sanctions in response to the upset in Ukraine, as well as U.S. plans to deny export licenses for high-technology items to Russia.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has decided to really spice things up by saying the U.S. could use a trampoline to get our astronauts to the station. He also implied the Russian Space Agency may continue to utilize the station alone, as the U.S. segment cannot function without the Russian segment, though the Russian segment can function without the U.S. segment. The thrusters on the Russian segment keep the ISS in orbit and at the proper attitude.

NASA issued a statement saying they have not received any formal word from the Russian government regarding this proposed change in space exploration cooperation. The $100 billion space station is the result of the work and cooperation of 15 nations, predominantly the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and Europe.  I am pretty sure we have covered a pretty huge dent in the costs, in one way or another.

This raises so many questions. Why did President Bush decide to cancel the shuttle program before there was another option in place? Why was this aspect (replacement for the shuttle i.e. human spaceflight) so short-sighted in thought and forward planning? Though the space shuttles were becoming outdated, NASA was in the process of upgrading them. Why does our government continue to cut our space exploration legs out from under us by cutting funding?

Why does our government seem to have a problem with strategic long-term planning support in this area? Often NASA makes plans, gets funding, starts work, and then whichever administration is in power loses patience and interest. I would love to see a complete list of all NASA (and other government) programs that were funded, worked on, and then scrapped, and why they were scrapped.

Asking these questions will not change what has happened, but I think examining some of these disconnects might help going forward. Space and politics aren’t really my thing, but even I am smart enough to understand the implications of the U.S. not having a prominent place and role in manned space exploration.

Well at least the Russians aren’t threatening our seats on the Soyuz just yet. And maybe this is just all bluster on Rogozin’s part. There is still a lot of knowledge to be gained from the space station, not counting the amount of money that has been invested. It only seems right to get as much out of it as possible for all parties involved.

What a way for the greatest engineering achievement ever embarked upon and completed successfully to end. What a way for one of the most auspicious global collaborations in cooperation of shared visions to come to a close.

Just something I was thinking about . . .

5 thoughts on “What Will Happen to the International Space Station?

  1. Those are great questions Sadie. My understanding is that manned space exploration has never been about science but rather PR. From the advent of the first idea of putting men in space with rockets, there has been a faction of scientists and others who have disagreed. The argument has been that the cost in dollars, time, complexity,lost science options, etc., required to create an environment that would support life, is not adding to the science being done. We could have done more than double the amount of space shots and science experiments for the same or less money, if we had just used robots and unmanned space craft from the beginning. The trouble being, it is hard for politicians to get the interest and budgets required unless they use real men in the space exploration. It just ain’t sexy enough to hold the public’s interest without our heros. Without the cost of astronauts, humanity could have already had robots and science experiments on many planets . not just Mars.

    So, naturally, when finances get tight, the manned space program, which has always been about looks not productivity, is the first to lose. the Russians are still about looks and heros right now so they continue, but not likely for very long. Granted, we have learned some about human physiology by having people in space but with each shot, the amount learned is a diminishing return. Not enough to justify the fact that more than 50% of the cost of manned space flight is the “manned” part , while only a few percent of the information gained and science done is a result of the “manned” part.

    It is sad that space is becoming the playarea of robots and AI, but the finances have always dictated that.


  2. Awesome story! My fear is Russia will pull our seats. Unfortunately, we don’t have Orion totally ready to send Americans to the space station. There are so many unanswered questions, what ifs and unsolidifed plans, I’m worried America will eventually lose its seat at the human space exploration table…quite sad because I do believe many discoveries made in space have helped us on Earth.


  3. I don´t know why people tend to think this international space station is a great achievement, it is in a way, but at the end of the day State government´s will always be competing to be the top dog. Like people, most people or a great majority. I wan´t too keep my job well I´ll make sure I work smarter and harder than the other guy or gall, I wan´t that job, I need money to support the family and live a good comfortable job, so if the other looses his job. Sorry, but it´s either me or you. Competition is key to progress, and also collaboration but to some extent. That extent has limits as you can see with little Putin over there. Plus they see the U.S as weak now, so they take advantage. Nasa should have kept up doing it´s own little thing, putting man on orbit without so much dependancy from foreign entities. But that is dictated by leadership in Washington, a.k.a the President, that goes for the previous president too.


  4. Sadly, USAnians have shown very little interest in space exploration. It’s not immediate enough or sexy enough. Even the idea of curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge seems in decline in many sectors. (You’d think that with science fiction becoming so mainstream people would have more interest, but it doesn’t seem to translate that way.)

    One thing USAnians are good at is reacting to perceived insults or being in second place. I wouldn’t be surprised if (assuming we are cut off by the Russians) we get the bit in our teeth again (ala the 60s race to the moon) and rejoin the space race.

    Sometimes you do have to hit rock bottom before you realize the need to turn it around.


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