NASA, Other

Fears of loss of access to the ISS fade despite ongoing crisis

A month ago, as the crisis over the Crimea ramped up, many people worried about the ramifications of Russia’s actions on operations of the International Space Station (ISS), particularly since NASA and the other partners rely on Russia for transporting crews to and from the outpost. However, those concerns have started to fade, in part because Russia followed through with a launch to the station last week that brought a NASA astronaut and two Russian counterparts to the station, and because the crisis overall has not escalated.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden, who has insisted from the beginning of the crisis that ISS cooperation has not been adversely affected by it, reiterated those beliefs Thursday at a hearing of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee on NASA’s 2015 budget proposal. “I am not aware of any threat” of Russia refusing to transport NASA astronauts to the station, he said in response to a question by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the full committee. “I am comfortable because we talk to the Russians every day, to Roscosmos,” the Russian space agency. “We’re confident that they are just as interested and just as intent on maintaining that partnership as we are.”

That believe is supported by Michael McFaul, who stepped down in February as US ambassador to Russia to return to academia. “I think U.S.-Russia space cooperation would be one of the last areas of cooperation to be interrupted,” he told NBC News in a recent interview. “This cooperation has continued for decades through many ups and downs in US-Russian relations. It is also profitable for Russia.”

54 comments to Fears of loss of access to the ISS fade despite ongoing crisis

  • Dave Huntsman

    Selling natural gas to Ukraine is even more profitable for Russia than selling space components and services; that doesn’t mean they haven’t shut it off at a moment’s notice at the emotional whim of one man.

    This is not the old Soviet Union, which at least in its last decades ruled more by committee than anything else. This is a one man show the likes of which we haven’t seen since Stalin. To think that Putin will always act in Russia’s best interest flies in the face of recent history.

    We should not let up in efforts to wean the US off of an ever more erratic – and possibly ever more threatening – dependency on the one man dictatorship that Russia has become. Full funding of commercial crew, and alternatives to Russian-powered rockets are the least we need to do right now. We’ve been given a warning; let’s not waste it.

    • DJF

      “””””(natural gas) that doesn’t mean they haven’t shut it off at a moment’s notice at the emotional whim of one man. “”””

      The only time Russia has shut off natural gas supplies is when Ukraine did not pay its bills. Gas to the rest of Europe which went through Ukraine was shut off by the Ukrainians so they could steal it for their own use.

  • amightywind

    I think U.S.-Russia space cooperation would be one of the last areas of cooperation to be interrupted.

    The risk/reward ratio of collaborating with Russia is minuscule and getting smaller. It is irresponsible to not to recognize this after the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine. What will it take to change the policy? We go to space with thieves and murderers. I am truly embarrassed to see Americans transported to space in such humiliating fashion. NASA and the astronauts should be ashamed of themselves. End the space station program and lets move on to the program envisioned after the loss of Columbia.

  • Coastal Ron

    This cooperation has continued for decades through many ups and downs in US-Russian relations. It is also profitable for Russia.

    Without the ISS Russia has no need for the Soyuz, and no way to show that they are a “superpower” in space. Not that they get a lot out of being viewed that way, but since they are no longer a military superpower as far as their ground and naval operations go they need something to show the world they can compete with the U.S. and others.

    Russia is crumbling, and their population is dying off slowly. Be it the weather, alcoholism, politics or the lack of any sane reason to start a business there, Putin knows people are not viewing Russia as a great place to live and raise a family, so he can’t shut down all connections to the West.

    Nevertheless, we have no need to perpetuate Putin’s bad behavior anymore than we have to, and there is no good reason NOT to fully fund the Commercial Crew program so that we can ensure that problems with Putin don’t get the chance to affect our operations in space. Congress’s ineptitude on this is only emboldening Putin – time to fix this before it becomes a real problem.

    • vulture4

      “Congress’s ineptitude on this is only emboldening Putin – time to fix this before it becomes a real problem.”

      Time to fix … Congress’ ineptitude? Before it becomes a real problem? LOL

    • MrEarl

      “Russia is crumbling, and their population is dying off slowly. Be it the weather, alcoholism, politics or the lack of any sane reason to start a business there, Putin knows people are not viewing Russia as a great place to live and raise a family, so he can’t shut down all connections to the West.”

      Which makes Putin and Russia all the more erratic and dangerous. Don’t be to certain about them not wanting to cut ties to the west. The likelihood may not be high but don’t underestimate the fact that Putin can talk himself into a position that cutting those ties may be the only option.

      • Coastal Ron

        MrEarl said:

        …but don’t underestimate the fact that Putin can talk himself into a position that cutting those ties may be the only option.

        That certainly is one of the benefits of willingly being handed the keys to the Russian kingdom by short-sighted Russian voters. However Bolden is right that past conflicts have not affected the ISS, and we’d have bigger problems to worry about if it gets to the point that Putin no longer wants to be a space power – which he only is because of the ISS. It wouldn’t look too good for Putin at home if China is the only nation left that can loft people to space.

        • MrEarl

          I don’t see Russia or Putin abandoning space. It’s too caught in their national pride. What I do see is Putin exceleratiing plans for OPSEK, the next Russian space station using Russian parts from the ISS. Detaching these parts from the ISS would make maintaining the US / Japanise / Euaropean modules very difficult if not impossible.

          • Coastal Ron

            MrEarl said:

            What I do see is Putin exceleratiing plans for OPSEK, the next Russian space station using Russian parts from the ISS.

            Well, certainly not what you are actually seeing, just that you think this would happen. Maybe, but so far all the space plans Russia has announced have not gone well, and building a new space station will take some time. I don’t think we have to worry about this for quite a long time.

  • Hiram

    I think we have to understand that human space flight advocates WANT a space race. They desperately want one. We need geopolitical tensions to make space an environment for international competition and exceptionalism, they feel. It’s the only strategy that was ever a strong driver for human space flight. China is good for a proto-space race, but we have a space race history to point to with Russia. That makes it easy. So there is no hesitation about looking for space-geopolitical mountains among the molehills.

    The brilliance of ISS was that it is a lasting symbol of international cooperation between onetime conflicting superpowers. It was organized in such a way that no party could really just stop cooperating and leave the other hanging. Unlike Crimea, ISS is a shared locale with mutual dependency. We can wag our fingers at each other over Crimea, but it doesn’t work that way with ISS. Crimea, to the U.S., is a matter of principle. ISS is a matter of practicality.

    • amightywind

      You make it sound like all participating nations on ISS are equal contributors. They are not, not even close. A US backed ISS gives Putin a political standing which he craves but in no way deserves.

    • mike shupp

      Hard to imagine the US ever getting involved in another space race. Perhaps a contest between China and India would invoke some international interest, 50 or 60 years hence, if the idea was to outperform the US, perhaps by establishing lunar bases. I dunno.

      Returning to the US, I’d say it’s policy now that this country will bend over backwards to avoid contests in space. There’s little support for ambitious space programs internally, and much opposition; and would anyone outside the country cheer us on anymore, particularly after we’ve spent 40 years demonstrating such contests have no value?

      • Hiram

        “Hard to imagine the US ever getting involved in another space race.”

        You bet. But the desperation for human spaceflight rationale won’t stop people from wishing it would happen. In fact, as I said, the very structure and organization of ISS disincentivizes competition. It was built precisely to make competition hard.

        But that’s exactly right. We’ve taken 40 years to demonstrate that such contests have no value. We’ve got a lunar trophy on the shelf, and we polish it up every once in a while. But it doesn’t enable anything. International partnership comes down to whether space accomplishment benefits nations, or species. I suspect it’s more the latter than the former.

      • amightywind

        Hard to imagine the US ever getting involved in another space race. Perhaps a contest between China and India would invoke some international interest, 50 or 60 years hence

        Hard to imagine? It is this kind of obtuseness in the face of growing strategic threats that has caused US international standing to fall so far in the past 6 years. The US is right now on the verge of an open space competition with China. Can you imagine how they will howl in congress when the Chinese start to permanently man their station? This is threat is imminent.

        • Michael Kent

          “Can you imagine how they will howl in congress when the Chinese start to permanently man their station? This is threat is imminent.”

          You consider a Chinese manned space station a threat that will require immediate Congressional attention and a new space race. And that America’s response should be to abandon their own permanently manned (for 13-1/2 years) space station and instead fly a four-man capsule once every other year to no place in particular for two weeks at a time.

          I know you are driven by your hatred of Obama and all, but do you ever even think things through before posting? Your posts are not even logically consistent.

          • amightywind

            It is less about hatred than horror at the slow and predictable train wreck he is created with s naive foreign policy. When he is retired I will care less.

        • Hiram

          Please, please, please. If we can’t do it with the Russians, let’s do it with the Chinese. Please, please, please! We simply have to be uppity to someone to preserve human space flight.

          “Can you imagine how they will howl in congress when the Chinese start to permanently man their station? This is threat is imminent.”

          Frankly, no. What threat? China bought $14B of the U.S. just this last year. $35B total. And we’re afraid of them permanently manning their station? Time to dive under my desk, I guess.

        • Robert G Oler

          I can imagine…the right wing nuts like you and Whittington will exaggerate the issue but the rest of the US will not e at all interested RGO

  • MrEarl

    “This cooperation has continued for decades through many ups and downs in US-Russian relations. It is also profitable for Russia.”

    That may be so but Russia is becoming increasingly more erratic. The language that Putin used in his speech to the Duma on March 18th is very remenisent of Hitler and Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.
    It would be better for us, the European allies, Canada and Japan to hedge our bets and develop contingencies for the ISS that does not include Russia.

  • But, but … Mo Brooks says we should be afraid and show Putin we mean business by sending more money to Huntsville for SLS! That will show those commies!

  • Marek

    The Ukraine is the least of the ISS’ worries. Fact is that an accident or malfunction could happen with the Soyuz or its booster almost anytime and if it does, then the ISS, program, Russians, US and internationals could be out of commission and out of luck for an unknown amount of time. Everybody is simply taking a chance by having no backups available. Once it happens it is too late. Amazing that the US Congress is choosing to be so penny wise and pound foolish today.

  • The $3 billion a year ISS program is an enormous waste of tax payer money!

    Time to move forward with the next generation of private and SLS derived and deployed space stations at LEO and the Earth-Moon Lagrange points.

    Marcel

    • Gary Warburton

      You know Marcel if Nasa doesn`t do a space station where else are you going to live and work in space for long periods of time. It could be disasterous on a long two or three year trip to Mars if even a toilet or an air filter doesn`t work after a period of time. There are literally thousands of things that could go wrong on such a trip and virtually no place to get repairs done. The space station is the perfact place to learn these things. They haven`t even tried out centrifuges of any size yet as they could find out on a years long trip that they are too weak to walk by time they get there. Where else will astronauts go on their way back but to a space station. I personally don`t believe that taking a spaceship like SLS from earth is even the best way to Mars as something like Nautilus X is the most practical way to Mars and to do that you need a space station to build it. The Europeons built a multibillion dollar detector for the study of antimatter which you seem to ignore and many other experiments which go on daily at the station. If you`re going to do space the space station is the perfect place to do it.

      • Neil Shipley

        SLS isn’t a spaceship either. It’s just another launch vehicle. Let’s keep that in mind please.

      • You could use the SLS to deploy a Bigelow Olympus space station or an SLS hydrogen fuel tank derived Skylab II. Both would be large enough to internally accommodate a six meter in diameter hypergravity centrifuge.

        Even Bolden said the future of microgravity experimentation at LEO is in small private space stations– not the ISS (One of the few times I’ve ever agreed with the man). We don’t need one super expensive centralized microgravity space station that does a poor job of trying to do everything. We need multiple specialized microgravity space stations in orbit. Never put all of your eggs in one basket!

        The SLS is the best way to deploy large SLS hydrogen fuel tank derived reusable interplanetary vehicles and fuel depots that utilize extraterrestrial fuel sources from the Moon, the moons of Mars, and meteoroids imported into cis-lunar space.

        Marcel

        • Gary Warburton

          Marcel, you are thinking of a centrifuges used by Nasa here on earth. What I`m talking about is a large torus that could be attached to the space station where one could try out a toilet and a shower. It would make a huge difference to be able to live like human being while you are cooped up in a space ship for months on end.

          • Reality Bits

            From the FISO presentation:

            http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/%7Efiso/telecon/Holderman-Henderson_1-26-11/

            Page 11 “ISS Centrifuge Demo”

            Utilize Hoberman-Sphere expandable structures with inflatable & expandable
            technology Soft-structures to erect a (low mass) structure that provides
            partial-(g) force for engineering evaluation

            Existing Orbiter External Airlock used to attach Centrifuge to ISS
            Also provides a contingency AirLock capability

            Hub design based on Hughes 376 Spin-Sat Tech.

            Goal: single Delta-IV/Atlas-V launch

            Schedule/Budget: <39 months $84-143M

          • My problem with the Nautilus artificial gravity concept are the high rates of rotation in order to produce hypogravity levels of G. A rotation of 5 RPM is required for the Nautilus to produce a pseudo gravity similar to that of the lunar surface. Of course, we don’t even know if the Moon’s hypogravity environment is deleterious, or harmless, to human health. Although we could easily find out by deploying a simple outpost on the lunar surface (another way the Moon helps you to find out if humans can get to Mars). Rotations rates as high as 7 to 8 RPM would be required for the Nautilus to simulate levels of gravity found on Mars.

            While there are some studies that suggest that humans can be gradually acclimated to rotations higher than 3 RPM, I still think it would be prudent to deploy rotating orbital and interplanetary habitats with rates of rotation that are around 2 RPM and that produce simulated gravities close to that found on the surface of Mars (the old Arthur C. Clarke philosophy).

            That probably means deploying rotating habitats that can use cables to expand their radius to nearly 100 meters. It might take one or two SLS launches to deploy such habitats to the Earth-Moon Lagrange points (not including mass shielding).

            Marcel F. Williams

        • Reality Bits

          Nothing like a Solution (e.g. SLS) looking for a Problem (e.g. grasping at straws).

          You’re NOT going to Moon/Mars with SLS, there is NO LANDER thus NO ACCESS to gravity wells (e.g. planetary surfaces) and no money to pay for it.

        • Jim Nobles

          Marcel said, ” We don’t need one super expensive centralized microgravity space station that does a poor job of trying to do everything. We need multiple specialized microgravity space stations in orbit.”

          I agree. But the smaller stations need to be in orbit and operating first before we do away with the big one. That’s the only way it makes sense.

          .

    • amightywind

      NASA could do amazing things if they rethought how they spend $3 billion in ISS funds.

  • Well at least you got it half right. Three quarters if you leave out SLS and still deploy both the LEO and EML stations. But keep pretending SLS is not a nonstarter.

  • Robert G Oler

    ISS is a perfect example of technowelfare mostly paid by the US…the Russians will do what they are paid to do because the money keeps their program going. it is just that simple. the problem is of course is that there is really nothing being done in the technowelfare that is worth the money…the jobs are some of the most expensive jobs per person that exist.

    in the meantime Texas pols who will argue till they are blue (grin) in the face that federal money would be wasted in the effort to build a high speed rail line from Dallas to Houston will calmly tell you how much SLS pumps up the local economy.

    Until that notion is broken, it is going to be hard to break the grip that technowelfare has on space policy Robert G. Oler

  • Malmesbury

    Hermann Khan remarked that if a problem is big enough, or the solution is unpalatable enough, the problem becomes the problem.

    In this case, closing the gap would mean backing Commercial Crew. However, it is more politically acceptable to send money to Russia than it is to spend it on services provided by SNC, Boeing or SpaceX.

    If spent on the Russians, at least it isn’t being spent on the enemy – of certain politicians “friends”

  • John Malkin

    I think the missing puzzle pieces to the discussion on ISS is Canada, ESA (10 of 20 members)* and JAXA. ISS is their only human space program. They have spent large amounts of money on modules, resupply vehicles, accessories and experiments. We have bartered and have made agreements with Canada, ESA and JAXA to provide services. Russia is only a piece of this puzzle.

    Assuming the space committees agreed to pull out of ISS, we would need to satisfy these agreements. We would severely hurt our space relations with these countries and I think the final cost wouldn’t make sense in the short term (5-10 years). Leveraging COTS and CCDev like expansion and improvement to ISS makes more sense to me. Transitioning to a Commercial only space station should be the next step in space station. The space committees don’t “trust” CCDev so how would they trust Bigelow for space labs and stations.

    *According to ESA website

  • Jim Nobles

    Well the U.S. Government just told NASA to cease relations with the Russian space agency except where ISS is concerned.

  • amightywind

    Its not easy being right all the time. Events are breaking faster than amightywind can keep up!

    http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/2/5574896/nasa-suspends-contracts-with-russia

    Good for NASA. That is what I call a sanction.

    • Jim Nobles

      And notice how the NASA press release lauded Obama and fired a torpedo straight at Congress? When I saw that I thought the release was a hoax. That’s the most political release I’ve seen come out of NASA. I wonder who wrote it, surely not Charlie, he has to face those jokers in committee.

  • Breaking news Business Insider among others reporting that NASA has suspended contacts with Roscosmos, except for ISS:

    http://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-bans-contact-with-russias-space-agency-2014-4

  • Time magazine suggests it might be a prank, there’s no confirmation from NASA:

    http://time.com/47439/nasa-russia-ukraine-crimea/

  • Jim Nobles

    Whoa! NASA tells it like it is…

    https://plus.google.com/+NASA/posts/eihoeSm5fVy

    (is this real?)

    .

    • amightywind

      This has been a top priority of the Obama Administration’s for the past five years, and had our plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches

      I didn’t realize that full funding would have pulled in the launch date to 2014. It is a lie, of course, like so many others. 2017 has been the quoted date for many years. No, the wretched mess that is NASA can be laid entirely at the feet of Obama.

      • Jim Nobles

        Don’t let your hatred blind you. If commercial crew had been completely funded from the beginning there’s a good possibility we’d be seeing a manned Dragon launch later this summer.

        I don’t know how that would help the new docking hatch situation though.

        .

      • Reality Bits

        In 2008 the thought was for commercial providers to close the gap to 2014

        “I’m less and less inclined to think that’s the right thing to do, because the closest we could close that gap in 2014, and that doesn’t do much for station,” said Jeff Bingham, a staffer on the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee. “So COTS D becomes the next candidate on the table.”

        “The COTS conundrum”, 28 JUL 2008 ( http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1179/1 )

        And from the same article to close the gap to 2011 if possible:

        The Senate version of the NASA authorization legislation currently under consideration, S. 3270, does contain language specifically directing NASA to move ahead with a version of COTS D. It calls on NASA to enter into Space Act Agreements with at least two teams to develop commercial crew capabilities that would be available by the end of fiscal year 2011 (“or as soon thereafter as is practicable”), and authorizes $150 million in fiscal year 2009 for starting that effort. Similar language was included in the version of the bill that the House passed in June.

        So Comrade Windy, do you consider our kind host to be a liar?

  • Malmesbury

    “Its not easy being right all the time. Events are breaking faster than amightywind can keep up!”

    Wonder what you’ll think when you realise what this does for –

    1) Commercial Crew entrants riding Atlas V

    Vs

    2) Commercial Crew entrants that don’t use Atlas V

  • Gregori

    The whole mercantilist economic nationalism that is applied to space is kinda embarrassing because it seems to end below 100kms in the atmosphere. They should make up their minds about what economic system they actually want since the economic powers that be are so quick to force developing nations to “open up” to trade. The access to supply the spacestation with crews and cargo shouldn’t be first American company to do it, it should be the cheapest and company to do it in the world. Neither Orbital or SpaceX have been that cheap for the mass they hauled.

    If they were actually worried about Russian monopoly, China could send up crews faster than any American company because it actually has a developed product. Make them compete with Russia over launches and if Americans can eventually make it cheaper, even better.

  • Reality Bits

    If Jeff will indulge me a long quote from his own 28 SEP 2009 article, “A tipping point for commercial crew?” ( http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1477/1 )

    In May, Sen. Richard Shelby voiced his concerns about NASA relying on commercial providers and spending money on them versus the Constellation program. “I believe that manned spaceflight is something that is still in the realm of government, because despite their best efforts, some truly private enterprises have not yet been able to deliver on plans of launching vehicles,” he said in opening testimony of a hearing of the appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA, singling out SpaceX in particular. “However grandiose the claims of proponents” of commercial crew transportation, he added, “they cannot substitute for the painful truth of failed performance at present.”

    Setting aside the fact that ULA is a “private enterprise” … I find the quotes rather interesting looking back at them from 4.5 years in the future.

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