What we seem to have here is a classic NASA fuckeroo.
Who knew that the President’s call for a new Vision for Space Exploration would result in the end of so many scientific programs and projects? Those that watch NASA are watching slack-jawed at the wide spread down sizing (RIF), and the outright cancellation of almost every program that doesn’t directly support the “Vision”.
This appears to include America’s interest in the International Space Station.
It may be prudent from a purely American point of view (our shuttle and crew at risk), but our European partners in the ISS have put a lot into this project. They have invested in the ISS, they have provided crew members for the flights, and they have been just as frustrated with the delays in the Shuttle program as any space-happy Yank.
And they’re very concerned by the reduction in flights of the Space Shuttle. It’s not clear yet, but this reduction may include flights that were supposed to carry their work into orbit. Our partners are sitting on equipment that’s been designed and built, and has been ready to launch since 2003. Including the Columbia Science Module, Europe’s showcase contribution to the ISS, with a billion dollar price tag.
This then, from Business Monday:
Europe has begun evaluating its options in the event the U.S. space shuttle is retired too early to launch the Columbus science laboratory, Europe’s billion-dollar contribution to the international space station, European Space Agency (ESA) Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain said July 28.
ESA has ordered a team of engineers to evaluate scenarios in which the shuttle is capable of launching 20 times, 15 times and 10 times between now and its intended 2010 retirement date. The study, whose conclusions are expected in early September, includes a scenario in which the shuttle cannot launch the Columbus module.
“I will have an evaluation of all these scenarios, including a scenario in which there is no Columbus,” Dordain said in an interview. “My biggest concern is to optimize the investments that our member governments have already made.”
Columbus is the centerpiece of a multibillion-dollar European investment in the space station that includes an unmanned space tug, called the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) that will deliver water, fuel and other supplies to the station. The ATV, whose first launch is scheduled for mid-2006, has been financed by ESA governments in part to repay NASA for the U.S. investment in the station’s basic infrastructure and utility-type support including electricity and astronaut transport.
Dordain said that if Columbus is not launched, the ATV program’s original reason for being would be lost and the program’s interest to European governments would diminish.
ESA has spent some 300 million euros ($362 million) in charges directly related to the delay in the launch of the Columbus lab, which is completed and in storage at EADS Space Transportation’s Bremen, Germany, plant. Those delay-related costs are certain to rise, as the estimates assumed a Columbus launch by the U.S. shuttle in 2006. A 2007 date is more likely — assuming no further delays.
Like a similar laboratory built by Japan, Europe’s Columbus facility was designed for launch only on the shuttle.
ESA member governments plan to meet in December in Berlin to fix the agency’s mid-term financial and program objectives. Dordain said that by then he hopes the latest shuttle-related issues are resolved, and that the vehicle has been once again cleared for flight.
If not, he said, he will canvass his government members to determine how they wish to proceed.
“Maybe we can use the station even without Columbus, and barter ATV against some kind of access to the station,” Dordain said. “We are looking at all kinds of possibilities. We also need to think about whether, even if it is launched, we will be able to use it as we planned. There is no sense in launching Columbus without being able to use it fully. I know this: Our governments have invested billions of euros into this project, and right now my top priority for the program is to maximize a return on that investment.” [end]
I can only imagine their frustration. I would like to see the ISS brought up to the minimum configuration for sustained scientific research. I think we owe our international partners this measure of commitment.
Some folks have openly called for the scrapping of the ISS. “Don’t spend a single penny on a program that may not provide any returns on the investment. It’s money better spent on manned missions to the Moon or Mars, rather than on an already-out-of-date Space Station.”
I disagree with this for several reasons. First, we really don’t know what will be discovered by the scientists working in the ISS. But the other member nations are willing to find out, with or without the USA’s participation. “Just launch the damn modules so we can get on with it!”
Second, the ISS is the perfect proving ground for companies like SpaceX. Give them a long term contract for re-supplying the ISS, and watch them step up to the plate. Let an American company profit from this mission, while saving NASA tens of millions of dollars.
Third, I believe that it’s a good thing to have a human habitat orbiting our home planet. If nothing else, it’s a monument to the growth of our species over the last 10,000 years. A monument to the research, engineering, and construction that went into every single part or component that we’ve sent up there. And it’s a monument to the cooperation between the leaders of Earth’s major space programs.
The ISS is a unique achievement, and I’ll always think of it as a symbol of our species’ potential.
“Working together, the people of our planet built this.”
That’s worth a monument, isn’t it?
Also posted at VERMONT SPACE
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