Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seats on Soyuz save us from the Shuttle?

I only just noticed this article on Thursday September 25th's NYT by John Schwartz ("Spending Bill Would Resolve a Pressing NASA Concern") regarding a spending provision in the House continuing funding resolution to allow NASA to continue to buy space on Russian Soyuz flights to the International Space Station until 2016 - under current law such authorization would run out in 2011.

The Soyuz seats are critical to the space program because NASA plans to wind down the space shuttle program in 2010. The next generation of spacecraft will not be ready until 2015, at the earliest, under current plans. In order to continue reaching the International Space Station during the gap between the end of the old program and the beginning of the new, NASA plans to fly with the Russian space program.
The subtext here is probably related to the Shuttle/ISS problem. Do we need to keep the Shuttle fleet going? If we don't there will be a gap in the US's ability to to get to the ISS as the Shuttle replacement won't be ready on time. BUT keeping the Shuttle's going will cost a lot, and that money will have to come from other NASA programs (e.g. doing science) which are already stretched close to breaking point.

So it might be cheaper to use Soyuz and get rid of the Shuttle on time, hence this provision.

NASA chief Mike Griffin is almost certainly right to say the Shuttle program and the International Space Station (itself created more by congressional feat) was a big mistake.

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