The International Space Station faces more delays because of Russia’s current economic crisis. This isn’t the first delay Russia has caused. But hitting Russia over the head because of its current economic woes will not speed things up; nor will heavy-handed tactics help produce the technological components needed to complete the international project. Numerous countries are involved, and so far the United States has led the way by asking Congress for an additional $660 million to cover expenses over the next four years. This may not sit well with taxpayers, but in the interests of space exploration, international unity and aiding Russia’s fledgling democracy, the money will be well-spent.
Russian Space Agency chief Yuri Koptev has reported that the station’s service module, in which the crew will live, will not be completed by the launch deadline. Options being explored include delaying the launch dates, or completing the assembly of the station without the service module. All in all, 16 participating countries must quickly decide whether to launch now or reschedule construction. Koptev is balking at a U.S. bailout, wishing to use domestic resources. But Russian pride should not interfere with the launching of what will be the most ambitious space adventure to date, at a cost of more than $60 billion.
Russia’s economic meltdown only exacerbates the situation, lengthening an already year-long delay. Yet despite Russia’s failure to meet its obligations, the world community has invested too much time and money for abandoning the project to be seriously considered. The three-member Russian-American crew is ready to go right now. The prospect of making next April’s scheduled launch remains bleak, though.
Many Russians are working without salaries, barely self-sufficient enough to afford food, let alone pay for a costly space venture. Some have brought up the old debate of whether space exploration should be funded at all when there are so many problems in the world. Some $660 million from the United States would not only help launch a significant advancement for all of humankind, it would also pay Russian space workers their salaries, putting food on Russian tables. Moreover, keeping Russian scientists working in Russia prevents their departure to hostile nations that are ready to pay top dollar for the skills needed to develop nuclear and chemical armaments.
The Office of Management and Budget as well as House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), have been debating Russia’s delays and cost-overruns for months during congressional hearings on the International Space Station. They already know what needs to be done. They must forget the political bantering, and provide the $660 million. Although members of Congress are already criticizing NASA’s budget as bloated even without this additional request, helping Russia complete the service module should be a top priority. To avoid further delays and set up a winning situation for all concerned, Congress must provide the needed funds.