Let’s say you don’t own a car, so you carpool to work. You have a nice arrangement with a friend: he drives, you pitch in for gas, and everybody’s happy. Then you and your friend get into a fight, and all of a sudden you can’t get a ride to work. This is now the situation between the United States and Russia after our dispute over Ukraine. The Russians are no longer willing to give American astronauts rides to the International Space Station.
Now I don’t write a blog about politics, and I don’t want to go into a discussion about the Ukrainian situation. It sounds to me like there are good guys and bad guys on both sides, and the whole thing is a complicated mess. But now this mess is affecting the one issue that I and my blog care about most: space.
The plan was that, following the termination of the space shuttle program, private companies like SpaceX or Virgin Galactic would pick up the slack. After my initial skepticism, I came to see this as a good thing if only because it meant American space exploration would no longer be totally beholden to the whims of Congress. But those private space companies aren’t ready yet. They need at least a few more years before they can start launching astronauts into space.
One Russian official suggested that, in the meantime, NASA could try using trampolines to send its astronauts into space. We can only hope this quarrel with Russia will provide the impetus private space companies need to prevent further delays and get their fleets into orbit. Otherwise, the future of the International Space Station is in jeopardy.