U.S., Russia share views on space collaboration

November 10, 2010 4:44:37 PM PST
After three more flights, America's space shuttle program will be history next year. So what happens when Russia is in charge of launching all of our astronauts? To get the $100 billion space station after next June, NASA will buy seats for our astronauts on the Soyuz rocket, just like wealthy space tourists have done.

Some space experts insist that makes us weak and vulnerable, that the Russians have us over a barrel. But the truth is our space programs have long relied on each other, and may soon cooperate with china and other countries to go deeper into space.

It was two hours before U.S. Astronaut Scott Kelly's launch on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station and he was saying goodbye -- from quarantine.

"Yeah man I'm a proud father," said Kelly's dad, Richard Kelly.

"I hope he has fun and doesn't get bored; we sent him care packages, so I sent him a lot of Family Guy," Kelly's daughter, Samantha Kelly, said.

Kelly has spent nearly three years training for his Soyuz flight and his six-month stint commanding the space station. In his final pre-flight press conference, the veteran of two shuttle flights said he's not sad the shuttle program will end next year.

"You know because of the economic realities, this is what we have to do; we have to retire the shuttle and build a new vehicle," he said.

"I think we're very fortunate to have our Russian partners," Scott Kelly added.

The Americans and Russians have been cooperating in space for decades, but when the shuttle program ends next year, the Russian Soyuz rocket is only way the Americans can get to space for years to come.

"Of course, it is a burden because we have to take on our shoulders the additional responsibilities," said Alexey Krasnov with the Russian Space Agency.

While the NASA will still command the space station, Russian space officials say the pressure will be on them to get there.

"Because we are feeling as a partner to the ISS program, the overall responsibility for the success of this unique international project," Krasnov said.

The U.S. will now try to encourage commercial space travel to low Earth orbit, while NASA develops new vehicles for deep space exploration to the moon or Mars. But U.S. and Russian officials agree that tight budgets mean future space travel will depend heavily on international cooperation.

"This is not giving up your leadership in space, and in fact, I don't think we will be able to explore without the rest of the major agencies around the world participating together," Space Station Manager Mike Suffredini said.

"If we combine our efforts, we can combine positive parts of every program," said Sergei Krikalyov with the Russian Space Agency.

NASA officials say there will always be disagreements over how to do human space flight, but there's no debate about whether it will continue.

"You just can't believe that the guy you knew in college is blasting off into space, and this is his third time," said Beth Christman, a friend of Scott Kelly.

"It's a dream and I'm living the dream right now," Scott Kelly said.

The latest plan passed by congress and signed by the president means three more shuttle flights, extending the space station until 2020, developing a new rocket for deep space travel and giving money to private companies to carry astronauts to the space station in low Earth orbit.

In the meantime, Americans must watch our astronauts hitching a ride and get used to seeing the once mighty shuttles in museums instead of outer space.


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