Charles Bolden, National Aeronautics and Space Administration administrator, admitted at a Congressional hearing recently that if Russia stops flying U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, it will be in trouble.
Bolden’s frank admission, which came during a US House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, ruffled feathers when he said that if Russia will decide stop providing transport to and from $140 billion international project orbiting around 250 miles above the Earth, the ISS would have to be shut down and abandoned. His confession came during a tense 10-minute face-off with the space and science subcommittee’s new chairman, John Culberson (R-TX). In that particular instant Bolden was pressed several times whether the agency had a contingency plan if Russia pulls out of the arrangement.
The US space agency of course is partnered with commercial spaceflight companies SpaceX and Boeing to have them construct and operate a new space taxi program designed to replace the long-defunct space shuttle program – the mothballing of which was endorsed by both former President George W. Bush and his successor, President Barack Obama. However, the new astronaut ferry system won’t be ready to be implemented until 2017 at the earliest – and with diplomatic relations beginning to deteriorate between the US and Russia, thanks to events such as the Russian invasion of Crimea, real fears that the country will pull out of the ISS project is a big possibility.
Bolden told Culberson exactly what NASA would have to do in such an event: to agree with Russia to shut down the space station and halt the project completely, culminating with an orderly evacuation of the jointly-funded project. Culberson said in an interview after the hearing that he found the idea that NASA has no back-up plan “appalling.” The Republican House representative blamed the Obama administration for the situation, despite the fact that the Bush II administration originally signed on shutting off the space shuttle program before ensuring a replacement for it was fully operational.
Bolden says that NASA’s hands are tied, considering it hasn’t been given enough funding by Congress to fast-track its space taxi program. He added and insisted that NASA had no other options. In view of the fact that, at present aside from Russia only China, with its Shenzhou spacecraft, has the capability of sending astronauts into space. However, Congress has barred NASA from working with China space agency – hence there’s nothing else the US space agency can do.