Since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011, American astronauts have been at the mercy of Russian spaceships to get to the International Space Station (ISS). American astronauts (Expedition 56) Richard R. Arnold, Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor and Andrew Feustel are dependent on the Russians to return to Earth after their stint on the ISS is over. Future American crews would also be dependent on the Russians.
In addition to the Russians, China also has a manned space program with their spaceship: Shenzhou. The United States does not currently have any manned spaceship capability.
Yesterday’s post about the moonshot movie without the American flag and the ongoing controversies over Russian interference in the American elections makes this fact an important one to understand. Without Russia’s spacecrafts, Americans do not have access to space. There are eight American space programs making American manned spacecraft now.
Of the eight, six programs have the capability to reach the space station and beyond. The other two, Blue Origin New Shepard and Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo are suborbital spacecraft. Of the eight, only SpaceX’s Dragon V2 and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner are expected to be operational in 2019.
But the important thing to point out is the estimated date for the spaceships is that they are based on the notion that each spaceship program will be ready as scheduled. Neither of the two spaceship programs have successfully tested manned flight capabilities.
As we know from the Apollo Program, there are many delays as the spacecraft get more complicated.
In addition, SpaceX is now facing the controversy of its CEO, Elon Musk smoking what appears to be marihuana on television. This creates a problem for the federal government in that marihuana is considered illegal under federal laws and it raises the question of whether it is appropriate to fund SpaceX with federal tax dollars. It is not a major impediment, but it is enough for rumblings of federal investigations beginning to surface. The smoking episode is in addition to questions about Musk’s ability to continue serving as CEO of the company.
Even if the two spaceship programs successfully meet their deadlines, the Americans are will not have manned spaceship capability for six to twelve months on the best-case scenario.
Against this reality remains the fact that Americans are dependent on Russian Soyuz capsules to reach the ISS. Add to this reality the ongoing controversies of Russian interference and the American sanctions against Russia makes the NASA access to Russian rockets problematic.
On August 31, 2018, the Russians told NASA that Soyuz seats for American astronauts will end in April. American taxpayers have been paying Russia $81 million for each seat on a Soyuz spacecraft. After the April Russian launch, the United States will either attempt to buy additional Russian seats, buy Chinese seats for trips to the ISS, or try to expedite American indigenous spaceship programs.
Although no one is saying it, the Russians are retaliating against American astronauts by ending its $81 million per seat contract to the ferry the Americans to the space station, because of the ongoing controversies and sanctions.
But things may be getting more political in space.
An act of what appears to be sabotage, one (MS-09) of the two Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked to the space station has an air leak caused by what appears to be a purposely drilled hole. The Energia Rocket and Space Corporation, a Russian entity, formed a commission to study the hole on the spaceship. According to some news outlets, the commission found the incident as a “deliberate” action by “unidentified” people.
The Russians are investigating when the whole was drilled, either on Earth before it was launched or in space.
The obvious question is why?
Add the context of ongoing Russian-U.S. international strife adds more significance to the question of why?
What is the message being made, and by whom?
Other news outlets have quoted Russian officials as saying the hole was “human error.”
As if this context is not bad enough, consider that the head of Roscosmos, the entity that makes manages Russia’s space program is Dmitry Olegovich Rogozin. Rogozin is no fan of America. In 2014, Rogozin was sanctioned by the United States in response to the Crimean crisis. Under United States law, Rogozin is prohibited from traveling to the United States and his assets in America are frozen. Under the same sanctions, Rogozin is prohibited from traveling to the EU.
The American sanctions against him and against Russia has led Dmitry Rogozin to make sure American understood his dislike of NASA and its space program. Rogozin tweeted on April 29, 2014 that American may want to “use a trampoline to get to space”. Rogozin continues to mock America’s space program, while American astronauts continues to depend on the Russians to get to space.
Enjoy the following two cartoons, courtesy of Cagle Cartoons: