Thursday, September 27, 2007

Take My Space Station, Please!

Earlier, we discussed the evolution of the Emperor's White Elephant, a.k.a. International Space Station (ISS). Despite that fact that it was configured as-is to be a perfectly good lab, the Emperor chose the path of least resistance and most cost in deciding to meet the international partner commitments by completing its build-out. But, just as soon as its assembly will be complete, it may be time to turn out the lights.

The Emperor has no plans for "utilization and exploitation" of the ISS science research lab for more than five years after it is completed, said European Space Agency (ESA) chief Jean-Jacques Dordain who is with the Emperor in Hyderabad, southern India this week.

So after expending some 18 additional space shuttle flights since the loss of Columbia, and somewhere in the vicinity of $60B (give or take), the Emperor is suggesting we will just walk away from the ISS some time around 2016. Try and compute the return on investment on that!

The European Columbus lab module, not yet on orbit but to be sent to ISS this winter, is considered to have at least an 11 year life-time. "Europe considers five years to be too little for the money and effort that would have gone into the space station," said Michael Taverna, European editor at the industry publication Aviation and Space Technology. "It would like the life of the station to be extended as long as possible," he said

Of course, the Europeans would. And so would many others who understand that while it may not have been the smartest thing to build, once its there and paid for, why not take advantage of it? Couldn't it become part of the exploration architecture?

After all, that's a lot of stuff we put up flying over our heads. Speaking of that, if we just walk away, who is going to make sure that stuff doesn't come flying back in on our heads? Even before 2016, what's the keep the Russians and the Europeans from just casting us aside and taking control of the station? Its not like we'll have any way of getting there on our own after the shuttle retires.

One would hope that the Emperor would be sitting on the throne thinking about these issues. Unfortunately, he's doing what any world leader in trouble at home does at times like these. He's out seeing the world...India this week...Russian next week. Maybe he understands that his time is short and is taking his swan song trip? We can only hope.

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