The International Space Station (ISS) can continue to function normally in spite of strained relations between the United States and Russia. This is according to NASA’s chief, who stated on Monday that the ISS project does not need any specific nation to succeed.
Russia had previously announced that it would stop cooperating with the United States on the International Space Station in 2020. That announcement came after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia over that country’s actions in Ukraine. All ISS partner countries depend on Russian Soyuz space capsules to take astronauts to the space station since the United States retired its space shuttles.
NASA will soon start to look for another way to transport astronauts to the ISS. Bolden also told reporters that he expects private firms to begin transporting astronauts to the ISS beginning in 2017.
SpaceX might be one of those transport companies. They already run resupply trips to the ISS and are seeking NASA certification for transporting humans aboard their Dragon spacecraft. Certification is expected to come in 2015. Founder Elon Musk believes the company will be granted the right to transport people by 2017. The ISS is expected to keep operating through 2024.
The ISS is run by a coalition consisting of the United States, Russia, Japan, and Europe. Because of this Bolden stated on Monday that no single nation could bring the project to an end. The NASA chief says that no nation is so critical to ISS operations that it can render the space station useless.
The United States paid most of the $140 billion price tag for the space station, launched almost all of it, and runs most day-to-day operations from Houston. With no space shuttle fleet, and no other alternatives, Russia controls access to the station. This shift in access control may be reflected in the changing ratio of Russian to American crew aboard the space station. When the shuttles were flying, the there were equal numbers of NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts going the space station. Now there are three Russians going to the ISS for every two Americans.
Asked if there was a possibility of involving China in the ISS program, Bolden said that there is no indication NASA’s relationship might change. NASA is currently banned from cooperating with China on human space flight.
Meanwhile,on Monday, Russia’s Deputy PM Dmitri Rogozin announced the outline of a plan for greater cooperation with China’s space agency. Rogozin met on Monday with China’s Deputy Prime Minister Wang Jang in Beijing. Rogozin announced, using Twitter, an agreement related to eight projects that he described as “strategic”. Later, using Facebook, he revealed that there were plans for some form of general cooperation in space, and for cooperation in the market for space navigation.
The chief of Russia’s space agency Roscosmos, Oleg Ostapanko, said that Russia would cooperate with China on some projects that could replace the International Space Station. China depends heavily on Russian and Soviet technology so the value of that cooperation “should not be exaggerated” he said.
It is clear that Russia and the United States can part company on the ISS program without program operations being compromised. NASA’s chief even says that no nation is critical to ISS operations. Alternate plans involving private corporations suggest that this true.
By Chester Davis