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By Novosti political commentator Andrei
July 25, 2005
MOSCOW: The summer launch window for the Discovery space shuttle, set to become the first shuttle in orbit since the Columbia disaster, in the words of a spokesman from Russia's flight control center, has shrunk to a porthole.—NPR NEWS AUDIO: NASA Counts Down to Tuesday Shuttle Launch, July 25, 00:00:42
In fact, for to all intents and purposes, the absence of a coherent shuttle program signals the end of the project.
Most people accept that the shuttle program
will be terminated by 2010. By that time, plans are to complete the construction
of the International Space Station, again using
This means that at least six launchings will have to be made annually in the time remaining. Such a rate is improbable, considering the present state of the Space Shuttle program. The best year for the Shuttle program was 1985, when nine launches took place. At that time there were four orbiters, but now there are only three. But this is not the biggest problem.
No sooner had new NASA Administrator Michel Griffin gotten used to his new office had he cut the number of flights. Now a special commission promises to determine in September the final number of launches required for Space Station. The Russian Federal Space Agency, which regarded the original number of flights to be insufficient, isn’t even commenting on this commission’s anticipated decision. Thus, American plans to complete construction of the International Space Station seem like nothing more than a "declaration of intentions."
Regarding those intentions, as distinct
from 1985, shuttles today are to be used exclusively for the Space Station.
It has been proven far less expensive to reach space using single-mission
carrier rockets, including Russian ones. Meanwhile, Griffin himself publicly expressed the attitude of the
"The station is limited in its research potential," he said, which was politically correct, but left no doubt as to the future.
The Americans can hardly be accused of a lack of pragmatism, and it would be short-sighted on our part to believe they will strive to promote international partnership and make effective an idea in which they do not believe.
If they were committed, why waste time
and money on an old transportation system, risk the country's image and, most
importantly, the lives of
It would, and Griffin has informed Senators of NASA's intention to withdraw some funds from the International Space Station’s science program and to spend more on developing the promising CEV research spaceship. A request from one Senator for Griffin to describe the main areas of research at the Station met with the reply that it would be good to experiment with "hardware" and conduct scientific research.
Summing up, and at the same time drawing
a line under the whole of
In other words,
The most optimistic calculations show that even work on developing the new CEV spacecraft, to be done at the expense of the International Space Station program, will make manned flight possible no earlier than 2014.
And until then there will be pilotless vacuum.