It’s the memory of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. Sputnik flew in low Earth orbit. I still remember standing outside with my father as we tried to spot it flying overhead. The shocking success of Sputnik propelled American efforts and investments in the Space Race between the two nations.
We won the race, some say, when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. But have recent events proven that it was only a temporary victory? Today, American astronauts are hitchhikers who have to thumb a ride on Russian vehicles to get into space. When the last Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, the ability to get into space on our own became history.
Here’s the situation we’re in, as described in a piece on Universe Today: “Virtually every aspect of the manned and unmanned US space program—including NASA, other government agencies, private aerospace companies and crucially important US national security payloads—are highly dependent on Russian and Ukrainian rocketry and are therefore potentially at risk amidst the current Crimea crisis as tensions flared up dangerously in recent days between Ukraine and Russia with global repercussions.” (You can read more at Universe Today.)
Our self-inflicted dependency on the Russians puts our commercial and national security and defense interests at risk. It’s something to think about, especially today, Memorial Day, when we pause to honor the men and women who have died while serving in the armed forces.
It’s also pricey to hitchhike to space. How much is a ticket on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft? It’s $70 million per seat, according to the article.
Should we re-fund NASA and get back into space?
Or, should we just cede space to the Russians?