The possibility that NASA might finally agree with Russia’s repeated request to fly a year-long mission to ISS grew stronger this morning with two stories:
- NASA gets set for yearlong stints on space station
- A year on the ISS: Good for tourists – and science
The first, by James Oberg, digs into the underworld of NASA politics to find that plans might very well be more advanced than NASA is letting on:
Specific mission dates and crew candidates are already being assessed. The sources discussed the plans on condition of anonymity because they were not yet due to be announced publicly.
Both articles point out the economic advantages to the Russians of longer missions, as they would free up seats on the Soyuz capsule for tourist flights. Both articles mention how this would also increase the likelihood that the rumored flight of opera star Sarah Brightman could take place.
And both articles note the necessity of completing long duration space flights as a preliminary to exploring the rest of the solar system. Astronauts need the experience. Doctors need to learn more about the long term effects of weightlessness on the human body. And ground managers need to understand better the problems of supplying a mission to Mars. All these things would addressed by longer missions on ISS.
Finally, flying year-long missions to ISS would help convince a very skeptical American public that the U.S. government is serious about exploring the solar system. As Oberg rightly notes,
So far, NASA’s strategy for exploration beyond Earth orbit has been mostly just talk and long-range planning for bigger rockets. Battles over booster designs and budgets, and even an unresolved issue as basic as selecting an actual destination in space for future astronauts, have contributed to the impression that little or nothing is happening.
A commitment by NASA to fly year-long missions would change that impression. One of the reasons I think the Space Launch System is merely a boondoggle and will never fly is because I, along with many others, do not believe the Obama administration (or Romney for that matter) is really serious about flying missions beyond Earth orbit. An agreement by NASA to fly long duration missions on ISS will help dispel that skepticism.
And even if NASA never flies a mission beyond Earth orbit because the budget deficit makes it unaffordable, the knowledge gained from these long missions on ISS will still make it more likely for someone else to move forward. If anything, the excitement generated will likely act to stimulate interest in funding a privately financed mission.
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