Outsourcing our space programs to Russia

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Fred Johnson columnist

After we retired the space shuttle in 2011, we have relied on Russia to transport our astronauts to the International Space Station and we pay them $70 million per astronaut for a round trip. NASA also contracted with a company to take supplies and satellites to space. Orbital Science has a $1.9 billion contract to send supplies to the International Space Station. Interestingly, Orbital Science uses Russian rocket motors that were built in the 1960s for Russia’s moon program. On October 28, the rocket built by the Orbital Sciences fell back and exploded over its launch pad at a NASA facility in Wallops Island, Va. It is believed that failure began 15 seconds after launch when the rocket motor experienced a catastrophic failure. In plain English: the rocket blew up. Four days later, another catastrophic failure occurred. This time it was Virgin Galactic’s spaceship. Richard Branson entered the space tourism business by founding Virgin Galactic which would carry six passengers into space for a $250,000 ticket price. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed in the California desert during a flight test. Note that the company has already collected $80 million in fares from those that booked flights on the spaceship. It turns out that Virgin Galactic also uses a Russian rocket motor, albeit a new one instead of a 40 year-old surplus one. This was the first flight test of the new rocket motor with a new fuel. Three of Branson´s top engineers recently quit over safety issues and accused Virgin Galactic of ignoring warnings over its safety procedures. So now the United States, which was once the leader in space technology, has no way to send astronauts or supplies to the International Space Station. We have outsourced our space technology to Russia. But Russia is not our friend. After the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Russia for invading the Ukraine, Russia has hacked into American companies and banks to steal millions of credit card information. It is believed that Russian hackers were responsible for recently disabling the White House computer system. Russia has also increasingly sent bombers on practice bombing runs on U.S. and NATO installations. It will take months for investigators to find the cause of the two accidents, but one thing stands out. Both programs use Russian rocket motors. Roger Handberg, a space policy expert at the University of Central Florida is quoted in Scientific American: “This is a big problem for NASA. The gap in U.S. engine development was a product of wishful thinking in a post–cold war world. We’re keeping Russian technologists working, building these things, but we’re not doing the same for ourselves….. We have the technology and the people, but we don’t seem to have much political will.” Fred Johnson is a member of the Morgan County Republican Party.

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