Last week’s Soyuz crash was just the latest in a series of embarrassing mishaps for Russia’s space industry, which is plagued by quality problems and an ageing workforce. With no other way to get astronauts into orbit, the operation of the International Space Station is now in question.
The people in the Altai Mountains of Siberia (where the crash occurred) are regarded as frugal and tough. In late summer, many live from harvesting berries and cedar nuts.
They are also used to having burned-out rocket stages crash in the wilderness after spacecraft launches. When, in the middle of last week, a large ball of fire was seen in the sky above the taiga, residents of the village of Karakoksha were not alarmed. They apparently just went back to sleep.
After a malfunction, a Russian Soyuz rocket had crashed along with an unmanned cargo spacecraft named Progress. The explosion was heard even 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.
This accident couldn’t have come at a worst time. It shuttered public confidence in the aging Russian technology which is crucial to the future of manned spaceflight since NASA shut down the Space Shuttle program in July. Russia remains the only country that is able to regularly put humans into space.
Permanent operation of the International Space Station (ISS) is now impossible without the Soyuz rocket, which went into service in its current form in 1973 and had previously been the most reliable rocket of all time.
Until officials figure out what went wrong with Russia’s essential Soyuz rockets, there will be no way to launch any more astronauts before the current residents have to leave in mid-November.
Abandoning the space station, even for a short period, would be an unpleasant last resort for the world’s five space agencies that have spent decades working on the project. Astronauts have been living aboard the space station since 2000, and the goal is to keep it going until 2020.
Even if the space shuttles still were flying, space station crews still would need Soyuz-launched capsules to serve as lifeboats, Suffredini said. The capsules are certified for no more than 6 1/2 months in space, thus the need to regularly rotate crews. Complicating matters is the need to land the capsules during daylight hours in Kazakhstan, resulting in weeks of blackout periods.
NASA wants American private companies to take over crew hauls, but that’s three to five years away at best. Until then, Soyuz capsules are the only means of transporting astronauts to the space station.
What is your opinion? Do you think that International Space Station will be abandoned?