Keep space station past 2015, pleads ESA chief
It'll only just be finished
The head of the European Space Agency (ESA) has called for the International Space Station (ISS) to be kept in service until at least 2020. At present the station - the only manned space effort currently underway - is not planned to keep operating past 2015.
"I am convinced that stopping the station in 2015 would be a mistake," Jean-Jacques Dordain tells the BBC. "We cannot attract the best scientists if we are telling them today 'you are welcome on the space station but you'd better be quick'".
The first two modules of the ISS were launched and joined together in 1998, but it is still not complete. However the last non-Russian modules proper are set for launch this February aboard the space shuttle Endeavour (a pressurised module carried aboard shuttles on ISS missions will also be left at the space station later this year). Under current plans the final component, a Russian lab module named "Nauka", will be delivered on a Proton rocket late in 2011 - just four years before the ISS's planned demise.
The way ahead for the station is uncertain, largely because the entire US manned spaceflight plan is in disarray right now. While the ISS has significant participation from many other nations - and it seems likely that only Russia will soon be able to carry crews to and from it, once the US space shuttle fleet retires - America remains by far the best-funded space player.
However the existing manned space plan for NASA, as set out by former President Bush - which would have seen a return to the Moon in the next decade and then boots on Mars within a generation - is known to be impossible given the agreed NASA budget. The Obama administration has yet to set out exactly what will replace it.
Europe - or anyway the ESA, which isn't quite the same thing* - has focused much of its space effort on the ISS in recent times. The station provides an ESA astronaut's principal opportunity to fly in space (a Belgian, Frank De Winne, became ISS commander in 2009). The ESA also helps deliver supplies to the station using its Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) robo-capsule, launched aboard Ariane rockets. The second ATV supply run is set for late 2010, dubbed "Johannes Kepler".
Blighty, though a large ESA contributor, has always refused to fund manned spaceflight. Despite that, the agency has recently selected a British astronaut, army helicopter pilot Tim Peake, in a move seen by many as an attempt to get the UK to change its stance.
"He was among the top candidates even if he is a Brit," said Dordain at the time.
Even if full British backing were to be forthcoming, however, the ESA will still have to wait on Mr Obama regarding the future of the ISS. ®
* The ESA works closely with Brussels, but it isn't part of the European Union apparatus and its list of member states is different. Many EU nations aren't in the ESA, and some ESA countries aren't in the EU (Canada, for instance).
Here's and idea ...
If the USA doesn't want the ISS anymore how about they just give the damn thing to the ESA or the UN? That way they don't have to pay for its operation or the cost to decommission it.
I'm only half joking, the USA knows the ISS is a money pit, not that there hasn't been some good science done on it, but because of all the politics, mismanagement, budget cuts and cost over runs it has become a huge white elephant that nobody wants to pay for.
Maybe we should just stuff it full of supplies and fuel for the VASIMR engines that are due to be fitted to the station and send the thing to Mars on a low power orbit. Then when we finally send a mission they won't need to carry as much.
Ruin a perfectly good bit of fun, why don't you?
"...a Belgian, Frank De Winne, became ISS commander in 2009...."
Bugger. A famous Belgian who isn't fictional? That's that pub game off the menu then.
Note for those who've not done this: This one's played when everyone's already well shitfaced and starts with someone asking: "Name a famous Belgian?". The game proceeds, after about five minutes of head-scratching, with someone saying "Hercule Poirot?" (sometimes "TinTin") and being forced to buy a round of drinks for being silly. The game ends about 20 minutes after someone says "Jean-Claude Van Damme"* when nobody can think of another one.
Yes, it is just a way of getting some pissed-up smartarse to buy a round of drinks. It's Friday. I make no apologies.
*Saying "Eddy Merckx" is considered bad form and marks you as a cycling enthusiast. Anyone using this is asked to remove themselves to the Snug Bar where the trainspotters hang out.
A throw-away culture?
I remember reading a year or so ago that the Americans can the ISS retired and (I think) deorbited by about 2012, just a few years after it was due to be completed. I can't understand this, why the need to have something new every so often? I know that space is an environment that is highly damaging, with atomic oxygen, high radiation levels etc. causing deterioration to surfaces and solar panels far faster than they would on earth, but doesn't it seem that America is acting rashly and a being a little bit of a bully here? They wanted Mir deorbited (presumably so that it wouldn't "interfere" with their grand space station plans?) and now they are due to retire the space shuttle, leaving them possibly without any form of man rated launch vehicle for 5 years or more. Incidentally, I have written a little bit on the retirement of STS; its at http://www.paullee.com/bandb/ - just search for the word "jihad"