Is this the last of us in space? Absolutely not....but as for now we are depending on our historic rival, Russia, to get us there!
Circling the Earth every 90 minutes, the International Space Station is the most expensive project ever assembled in space. Within days, it will hang by a single, costly thread and Russia is holding it.
The last U.S. space shuttle is scheduled to blast off Friday. After that, the U.S. and other nations will rely on vintage Russian spacecraft to ferry their astronauts to the $100 billion station. Russia will hold a monopoly over manned spaceflight, and tensions already are rising. The Russians are in the process of nearly tripling the cost of using their Soyuz crew capsules for transport to the orbiting base, and other countries have little choice but to pay up.
The Russian monopoly on manned spaceflight won't last forever. If all goes as NASA plans, the Russian monopoly will end in 2016 when the agency hopes to take its pick of several new commercial crew transports currently on the drawing board. NASA is now seeking a commercial space-taxi service—designed, built and operated by the private sector—to cut costs while speeding the pace of development.
"We are working aggressively to get our own crew capability,"said William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, the chairman of the international board that oversees the space station.
Since President George W. Bush announced the end of the space-shuttle program in 2004, the Russian space agency has increased the price of taking U.S. astronauts to the space station eight times. By terms of the latest contract, each seat on a Soyuz crew capsule will cost NASA $63 million by 2016—a 175% price increase since 2005, according to a new agency audit.
So far, NASA has purchased 46 seats for Soyuz flights through 2016, and it wants to buy more.
But as for tomorrow, July 8, 2011.... despite a few thunder & lightning storms...at 11:43am the very last United States Space Shuttle, Atlantis, carrying a crew of four, Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim are set to take the final flight.
The 12-day mission to the space station is among the most mundane of any of the 134 that have preceded it. It is seen largely as an insurance policy in case commercial delivery firms hired to resupply the station starting next year run into technical problems with their the new rockets.
"I think I speak for the whole crew that we are just delighted to be here. After a very arduous nine month training flow, we're thrilled being here for launch week,"said the mission's commander Chris Ferguson
The end of the space shuttle program does not mean the end of NASA, or even of NASA sending humans into space. NASA has a robust program of exploration, technology development and scientific research that will last for years to come. Click here to see what's next for NASA.