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The U.S. government must now decide whether it will overlook Russia's skirmishes with Georgia

Even though Russia and Georgia have officially signed a cease-fire agreement, the volatile situation between the two nations could jeopardize whether or not NASA astronauts fly to the International Space Station aboard Russian spacecraft in the future, U.S. officials warn.

NASA will be forced to rely on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS on the Soyuz spacecraft and transport supplies from Earth to the space station once the shuttle is retired in 2010.  The next-generation Orion spacecraft is not expected to be done until 2015, at the earliest, NASA previously said.

"The new challenge we have is that for approximately five years, the plan — which is a very bad plan but is the only plan that NASA and the administration and Congress have approved — is to be dependent on the Russian Soyuz vehicle to get people to and from the international space station," said Tom Feeney, (R-FL).  "And so now, with the political realities with Russia invading Georgia, we have a new wrinkle thrown in."

Furthermore, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D, FL) also said the situation between Russia and Georgia could greatly impact the space cooperation between the United States and Russia.  Without the use of Russian spacecraft after the shuttle is retired, NASA astronauts will be unable to get to the ISS to help finish its construction.

Nelson also pointed out that a U.S. law signed in 2000 directly prohibits the government from entering contracts with any nation that gave assistance to North Korea and/or Iran with any nuclear programs -- Russia has helped the nations with their nuclear programs.  Congress must now either reauthorize the waiver so a transportation agreement can be made, or will uphold the 2000 law and not work with Russia.

So far, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has supported the waiver, though it must now pass the House, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senate.  

The French-brokered cease-fire that has been signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili forces both sides to return their troops to their original locations prior to the skirmishes.  But even with an agreement in place, tensions between the United States and Russia, the two largest contributors to the ISS, remain high.

The U.S. government must now try and determine whether or not it will move forward and pay millions to the Russian government for ferrying astronauts into space, or delay the looming retirement of the space shuttle fleet a few more years.

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RE: Hopefully It Will Clear Up
By nah on 8/18/2008 10:53:47 AM , Rating: 2
Because if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Where did you get that from ? Read the Feynman Appendix to the Challenger disaster--there are many problems which are listed as 'may have been solved' 'probably solved' 'partially solved' and 'not solved'--13 of these problems occurred within the first 125,000 seconds of running the engine, and 3 within the next 125,000. Independent contractors for NASA give a probability ratio of 1 or 2 per 100 for chances of an engine failure--considering the Shuttle has had around 130 ? launches and two disasters--the probability ratio of around 2 per 100 seems quite accurate--you are literally playing with lives here

RE: Hopefully It Will Clear Up
By goz314 on 8/18/2008 2:10:32 PM , Rating: 2
...and of those 2 disasters, how many were directly attributable to the failure of the SSME system?
Neither of them.

Challenger was lost because of a booster o-ring failure during launch, and Columbia was lost during re-entry due to critical damage inflicted to the thermal protection system by ET foam striking the leading edge of the left wing during launch as well.

The main engine system on the orbiters is actually very reliable and robust when compared to other launch vehicles. The shuttle could actually have one of the three engines shut down during launch and either perform a programmed abort or continue on to orbit depending on the timing of the shut down.

Now, I'm not saying that Feynman was wrong. Just that the breakdown of problems or issues he listed pertained to the probability of failure in the main engine system - of which, knock on wood, there has never been a catastrophic failure.

RE: Hopefully It Will Clear Up
By croc on 8/18/2008 6:02:52 PM , Rating: 2
The Challenger was lost primarily due to the fact that the o-rings had never been tested (Indeed, the whole shuttle had not been tested) in temperatures as low as were experienced when it launched.

In my humble opinion, the launch should have been called off for better weather conditions, cost be damned. But there was great pressure from on top to get the thing launched, primarily for the PR value.

Gee, it sure got NASA some good PR, didn't it?

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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