The venerable Soyuz has, until recently, been the picture you found in the dictionary when you looked up "reliable." The Emperor, a few Congress folk, the Orlando Sentinel and others want to continue to make it our "ride" to the space station until next year's model is ready to pick up from the show room.
Of course, the Corvair was also a great car until Ralph Nader got to it.
The last two Soyuz re-entries have been close calls. The propulsion module has failed to separate cleanly from the crew capsule and hangs by a "thread" until a burn-through releases its precious cargo to an uncertain orientation, a grueling ballistic trajectory, and fortunately, so far, a landing far from the desired target zone.
The vehicle currently on orbit is likely to suffer the same fate. And so will each and every Soyuz we put American crew on during the gap that stays aloft for more than four to six months. That is until one of those vehicles finds an orientation that shadows the "thread." You can surmise what happens after that.
But, the Soyuz used to fly long duration missions to the space station flawlessly for years. So what changed in the last two flights? Some bad parts out of the same lot?
A unique confluence of circumstances being investigated appears to be at fault. The space station has grown in size considerably since those first early long duration flights that the Soyuz so flawlessly serviced. It is a bit larger now with all the new modules the Emperor has sent aloft for our friends. As such it makes quite a target for training gangly military officers on ground based radars around the world. It has also become quite a source of electromagnetic energy itself, with all the radios and such from all the international partners blasting their messages back to the homelands. And it collects plasma from the space environment.
Did you hear the recent news about cell phones in your pocket causing your little reproductive agents to slow down or become ineffective? The same thing may be at work when plasma and/or the cacophony of EMI on the space station envelops the Soyuz separation pyros and causes them to become inert.
Soyuz is unsafe and we are subjecting our astronauts to an unnecessary risk by putting them in vehicles that have been on orbit for more than a couple of weeks.
So, today's prize question goes out to those who are asking for the keys to this borrowed ride. The same guy who promised a spaceship in 2011, who is now telling you he'll have it ready to pick up in 2015, is the same guy who wants to continue to buy seats on the Soyuz...or fly the space shuttle another couple of years instead.
Who in their right mind would trust this used car salesman?