For 5 years beginning in 2010, US astronauts looking for a lift into space will have to hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz rocket.
That’s because NASA plans to shelve the space shuttle program in 2010, but the next generation of US spacecraft won’t lift-off until 2015, the earliest.
The gap will be associated with thousands of layoffs in Florida. Meanwhile, recent US-Russian antagonism following Russia’s romp in Georgia has highlighted potential risks associated with Russia as a sole-source taxi service to the International Space Station. And of course, China’s space program is moving ahead to a point where it is now likely that the next person to walk on the Moon will be Chinese.
The Bush administration implemented this gap strategy in 2004 to maintain NASA’s annual budget at $17 billion while accelerating development of its new launching program known as Constellation. The goal of Constellation is to return astronauts to the Moon and perhaps Mars and near-Earth asteroids, but none of this will happen before 2020.
Both presidential candidates think NASA should delay plans to shelve the space shuttle program, and both have pledged to accelerate the Constellation program with additional financing. But providing new financing to NASA so late in the game will not shorten development time very much.
“It’s essentially unfixable now,” NASA administrator Michael Griffin told the New York Times.