24 February, 2011
By the end of this year,
NASA will no longer be able to send humans into
Barack Obama’s plan, responsibility will go to private
companies, which are expected to come up with cheaper ways to ferry
astronauts to low-Earth orbit.
“They know they have a big step to take if they are going to put humans into
space… They have a lot of work to do,” says NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams.
No one can say for sure when the private American companies will come up
with a new spaceship.
For years to come, it will be the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which is going
to be the only means for people to reach the International Space Station,
which is perfectly fine with the leaders of Russia and the US, but does not
sit well with many Americans.
“How could this happen? We could make it to the Moon, there was wonderful
equipment, and now we are reduced to being passengers on a Russian ship.
That’s a wounded pride thing,” says Marianne Dyson, an author and former
NASA flight controller.
Wounded pride also revealed itself in comments by some American lawmakers,
astronauts, scientists and former NASA officials.
"We will be largely dependent on the Russians, and that is a terrible place
for the United States to be," former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told
the Washington Post.
"For the 'world's greatest space-faring nation', this is hard to accept",
says John Glenn, the first American to be sent into Earth orbit.
Comedians in the US did not miss out on poking fun at Americans’ sense of
“With the end of manned space flights, America has to ride on the hump in
the back seat while the Russians take the wheel to space,” said Stephen
But those in NASA who now actually work with the Russians, like astronaut
Sunita Williams, have different sentiments.
“I couldn’t imagine when I was going walking on the Red Square or going to a
Russian company and working hand in hand with Russian colleagues.
We are not
competing but we are working together. It’s time for joint collaboration and
learning from one another. That’s just as healthy as the competition that we
had in the past,” says Williams.
But it is not the first time Americans have had to rely on the Russians to
take their crew to space.
They depended upon Russian rockets during a two-year grounding of US
spacecraft after the
2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
Columbia exploded during re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere and all seven
crew members died.
Shuttle’s track record includes another tragedy:
in 1986, the Space Shuttle
Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight.
Russian Soyuz proved to be the safest way to deliver people to space and
now, with the shuttle retiring, it will be the only way.
“We are no longer in a space race. What was once a global competition has
become a global collaboration,” said President Barack Obama.
The leaders of both Russia and the US are saying that space is no longer a
place for competition, it is a platform for co-operation, but the question
remains: is everyone in the US ready to fully accept it?
William Anderson associate professor of economics at Frostburg State
University, supports President Obama’s plan and says that this is not a
competition but cooperation, and we should not turn back to “Cold war in the
"It is nonsense. This is not a controversies country… I remember Yury
Gagarin and the reaction after Sputnik. Yes, it is wonderful we went to the
moon, but this competition with the Russian staff - that we were talking
about 50 years ago. We need to grow up."
Rick Tumlinson, co-founder of the
Space Frontier Foundation, says with
private enterprise we will enter an exciting new era of space science.
“This is not the end of anything, it is a beginning of a very appropriate
transition from the government explorers to the people who have funded those
government explorers being able to get out and reap the benefits of that
exploration themselves,” he said.
“That goes across all borders, it is going
to be based on merit, it is going to be based what different countries, what
different companies in those countries, can bring to the game. I think that
within the next five years we will see the launch of multiple space
It is time for private companies, no matter what country they
are in, to begin co-operating and opening the airlock to space.”