A Russian spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday, taking NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin on a mission to the International Space Station. This marks the start of the U.S. tag-along space policy in which U.S. access to low-earth orbit is provided by Russia. It’s nice of them to let us tag-along. Of course, we are also a paying customer, so I’m sure that helps. This report from Spaceflight Now has the launch details if you are interested.
I’m trying to work up a rant about the sad demise of the U.S. manned space program but I think I said all I wanted to say earlier this year (here and here). What more is there to say? Through a tragic lack of leadership and financial mismanagement the U.S. has given up a commanding lead in the space race. Oh, did you think the space race was a thing of the past? Other countries are forging ahead, they clearly didn’t get the memo. The strategic and symbolic value of space is very clear to many other countries that are embarking on their own ambitious space programs. Most of them are very long-term programs, but they have the advantage of a coherent and ambitious space agenda. The American plan is now to develop a commercial space taxi service and then maybe, maybe, do some exploration with NASA, if they can ever get the funding for it. In the meantime, the launch facilities and personnel that formed the core of the American manned space program have been retired.
The days when NASA and American astronauts in space were a visible part of the U.S. role in the world appear to be over. There may come a time in ten or twenty years when the U.S. will once again find the political and financial wherewithal to support a manned space program focused on science, exploration and discovery, but until that day comes, I will remain one of those who feel that something important has been lost.
Image Credit: Spaceflight Now/Roscosmos