I hope not, but…

The other night I was up at 3 am with a case of Lisbon jet lag and decided to watch the Netflix space documentary, which profiled Elon Musk’s SpaceX in, The Return to Space.

For anyone interested in how Elon disrupted big Aerospace and put SpaceX on the map, I would highly suggest watching.

SpaceX Headquarters, Hawthorne, CA.
SpaceX Headquarters, Hawthorne, CA. (SpaceX, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

I still remember talking to NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, holder of the longest person in space until 2016, and how he told me that none of the NASA crew thought it was remotely possible to re-land a first stage rocket. Even Armstrong testified before Congress blasting Musk’s SpaceX for being a sham.

They all ate crow soon after.

After finishing the show, I thought, “Wait a damn minute! What about the Russian space program and the fact the ISS is crewed by Russians, Americans, and other international crew?”

Q. Who operates the International Space Station?

Five partner agencies (the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the State Space Corporation “Roscosmos”) operate the International Space Station, with each partner responsible for managing and controlling the hardware it provides. The station was designed to be interdependent and relies on contributions from across the partnership to function. No one partner currently has the capability to function without the other. –From NASA’s website. 

 This mosaic depicts the International Space Station pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly around of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on Nov. 8, 2021.
ISS 105mm forward mosaic created with imagery from Expedition 66. This mosaic depicts the International Space Station pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a fly-around of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on Nov. 8, 2021. (NASA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Before SpaceX came along and shoved aside the nonbelievers, NASA was paying Russia close to US$150M per astronaut to launch them into space! Including my former SEAL TEAM 3 platoon commander, Chris Cassidy, who went on to become the second SEAL astronaut. It is now a requirement of all astronauts to be conversant in Russian in order to understand instructions and procedures aboard the Soyuz space capsule.

Russia’s involvement in the ISS goes even further, it is also responsible for maintaining the orbit of the station around Earth.  Russia is in charge of the propulsion systems of the station that keeps it up there.  It’s not as if NASA can easily take over this essential part of maintaining the station in orbit either.  The way it is done right now is by using the rockets of the Soyuz space capsule when it docks with the ISS to push it back into the proper position. This means that getting astronauts up there and back while keeping the station from falling back down to Earth is entirely dependent on the continued goodwill of Putin and the Kremlin.  It may have been a bad idea to give Russia this much power to abuse.

 

The Politics of Space. Russian Cosmonauts in yellow and blue flight suits had the internet buzzing about it being a show of support for Ukraine. Russia says they just had a lot of yellow fabric on the shelves they needed to use.

In recent weeks the Russians have threatened to pull out of the agreement altogether unless all sanctions on its country are lifted, even though the sanctions went to some pains to specifically exempt ISS operations.  Russia is also in talks with China to join their town space programs in an effort to establish a base on the Moon and then Mars.  They are inviting other countries to join them in this effort. This would make them a direct competitor to NASA and the European Space agencies in their own efforts.

So what happens to the Russian Cosmonauts now that Putin essentially put a huge turd in the space punch bowl?

Will Russia’s state-sponsored space agency, Roscosmos, fall victim to cancel culture, or could it be the glue that holds the international community together?

I hope the latter, but it did get me thinking about the future of the ISS and how thick the tension must be in the tiny metal station hurtling around the earth at 17,500 miles per hour.

Would love to hear your comments below.

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