Friday, July 17, 2009
NASA Risks Lives to Finish ISS; Plans to Scuttle It In 2016
Two days ago, Hoosier Dr. David Wolf boarded the space shuttle Endeavour and began a journey with six other astronauts to the International Space Station. Endeavour's current crew along with six future crews have trained, planned, and sacrificed to ride to space and help finish the ISS. Shuttle missions to finish the International Space Station will, if on schedule, end next year.
NASA's plan is then to turn elsewhere for space flight and give the Discovery, the Atlantis, and the Endeavour a well-deserved retirement. Unfortunately, the six vehicle shuttle fleet (test vehicle Enterprise was first) is missing two shuttles with the Challenger and the Columbia gone but not forgotten. Twelve United States astronauts, one Israeli astronaut, and one American teacher have died in the pursuit of space exploration in the space shuttle. While the two shuttle disasters did not have anything to do with the actual construction of the International Space Station (Challenger exploded in 1986, and Columbia had no way to dock to the ISS) the two disasters have shown how dangerous and deadly spaceflight can be. Right now, the Endeavour orbits the Earth on its way to the ISS with, what NASA calls, minor damage due to foam that fell off the external fuel tank during launch.
Yesterday, "Friend of the Blog" Christopher Jackson told me in a casual Facebook chat that he was e-mailing NASA. Interested, I asked why. He then told me that NASA is planning to de-orbit the International Space Station in 2016. That means that in just seven years, this in-space laboratory will be allowed to fall into the Earth's atmosphere and purposefully be crash landed into the Pacific Ocean. The Washington Post published an article on the plan. Read more about it here.
Why are we continuing to put our astronauts' lives in danger and spending money to finish the station if we are just going to abandon it in seven years? I'm bewildered and surprised.
I have always been a big proponent of human spaceflight. I remember growing up with pictures of the Saturn V rocket and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon posted on my walls. Human spaceflight has captured our imagination and enriched our culture for years. Consumer products such as Tang, freeze dried food, velcro, and other items have come from space exploration.
NASA now arrives at a crossroads for the program. Budget cuts and funding issues have drained its operational budget. The United States economic situation has not been good for NASA. So, my question now is that knowing we are just going to let the station die in seven years; why continue to build it? Why continue to put lives on the line to finish the space station if there's no commitment to it? We have come this far and spent this much to just let that money fall into the Pacific Ocean.
We know the ISS will not last forever, but, as the article says, it should operate without issue through the 2020's. There's not anything that we can use it for after the shuttle program is allowed to pass into the record books?
This story just makes no sense to me.
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