Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cold War politics at the International Space Station.?

        The next eight months promise to be a period during which space enthus like ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM) will watch with interest the space relationship between the two old Cold War rivals---the US and the Soviet Union (former).

        Will it be marked by confronation or colloboration? Ironically this development is taking place at a time when the world is observing the 50th anniv of the first human space mission on April 12, 1961, by Yuri Gagarin.

         When astronauts like Rakesh Sharma and Sunita Williams stated in an interview to BMM recently that people must fly to space as reps of the earth rather than that of any single nation, a sort of a tension is slowly developing between the US and Russia. This can perhaps impact on the space ties among other nations as well.

          How did this happen? The unexpected controversy has been triggered by SpaceX, a private American space organisation, planning to dock its spacecraft,  Dragon, with the International Space Station (ISS) in December 2011. SpaceX has saught the approval of Nasa.  Nasa recently announced a multi million dollar commercial crew development contract with SpaceX.

         On Friday--April 22--the head of Roscosmos' manned spaceflight department, Alexei Krasnov, said in a statement::  ``We will not issue docking permission unless the necessary level of reliabity and safety of the spacecraft is proven. So far we have no proof that those spacecraft duly comply with the accepted norms of the spaceflight safety,'' he stated. It has been published by Ria Novosti.

         SpaceX's flight plan envisages two Dragon flights taking place this year.  In the first flight, the spacecraft will perform a flyby---flying around the space station---and approaching it within 10 kms. In the second mission, it will actually dock with the space station which will take place in December 2011.
         Maybe the Russians have a point, but at the same time it must be noted that the SpaceX will not execute a mission which will compromise on safety levels. Their reputation will be at stake if anything fails. 

         In this scenario, one wonders how the US Congress will respond? Will it be a knee jerk reaction saying that the US should deny permission to Russian spacecraft to dock at the ISS?

         BMM feels that the issue will be finally settled thru diplomatic channels involing also the White House and Kremlin. The US should agree to some of the demands which Roscosmos is likely to make for giving the final approval for allowing Dragon to operate to the space station. There has to be a spirit of give and take.

         Let both the countries not forget the Apollo-Soyuz mission which literally marked the end of the Cold War.

         The era of the space shuttle will come to an end in June 2011. If American astronauts have to fly to the space station, they have no choice but to depend upon the Russians until the US develops its own replacements for the space shuttle. Indian-American astronaut, Sunita Williams will begin training for a Soyuz flight in May 2011. She is expected to fly to the space station in May 2012.

         To repeat the words of Sunita and Rakesh, let there be colloboration rather than confrontation in manned space missions.


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