With the coming retirement of the Space Shuttle, the most immediate issue in human spaceflight is how to get U.S. crews to the International Space Station.
When the decision was made in 2004 to retire the shuttle, the plan was to have a small "gap" starting this year, during which the Russians would provide this service, as they did for the two-and-a-half-year period after Columbia was lost.
But if lawmakers in the House have their way, we could be buying rides from Russia to the space station for the foreseeable future.
Argh. Rand, you know better, so I'm just going to have to assume you're playing down to the saps who read AOL News (and I imagine they are saps, cause who reads that?). As you know, the Soyuz has been used to carry American astronauts to the ISS since late 2000. Simply, if you're going to the station on the Soyuz you're there for the long haul, but if you go up on the Shuttle you're there for a visit, due to the Shuttle's on-orbit endurance and the logistics of lifeboats.
The comparison to Columbia is all wrong.. the "gap" there was the Shuttle not being available to continue building the station, or deliver supplies. It had nothing to do with getting US crews to the ISS, as the Soyuz has always been the way expedition crew members get to the ISS. That's the way the ISS is structured: the Shuttle builds the station, the Soyuz delivers the crews.
I fear that articles like this one do nothing but inflame misguided protectionist policies that threaten the partnership of the ISS. If the US decides to back out of the agreement to use the Soyuz, which has been the deal since 1992 (yes, 1992) then international cooperation will be severely strained, perhaps to breaking, and that would be an exceptionally stupid way of pushing American exceptionalism.
Rand is arguing with me over at his blog, and saying a lot that he didn't say in the article. He's yet to address the second paragraph I quoted, which I think is the most indicative that he doesn't know better. The Russians did not just "provide the service" of getting crews to the ISS during the two-and-a-half-year period after Columbia was lost.. they've been providing that service since 2000.. that's what they do, it's their major contribution to the operations of the ISS. Unfortunately, I think a lot of Americans think the same way - that Soyuz takes cosmonauts to the station and Shuttle takes astronauts to the station - that isn't the case, it never has been the case, and other than backstabbing protectionist politics, I can't see why anyone would want it to be the case.