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Space Science

NASA Considers Abandoning ISS 543

Posted by michael
from the okay-who-took-my-parachute dept.
mbstone writes "MSNBC is reporting that NASA is threatening to mothball the International Space Station unless Russia coughs up its share of the money for maintenance and support missions. NASA is now making "contingency plans" to leave the station unoccupied for as long as a year. What I want to know is, why a contingency plan? Didn't NASA already have a plan in place? Are U.S. taxpayers going to pay millions extra to develop new mothballing equipment and procedures that could have been designed-in at far less cost?? Also, I would be glad to house-sit, I use very little oxygen."
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NASA Considers Abandoning ISS

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  • by singleantler (212067) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:18PM (#4767794) Homepage Journal
    More at New Scientist [newscientist.com]

    It would be a great shame to lose the manned presence in space, even if the amount of research they have been able to do is heavily restricted by having a very small crew up there at any one time. The crew is limited by the size of the escape module - currently a Soyuz. It looks like it'll be 2012 by the time the planned NASA replacement escape craft is ready, so they're going to have to come up with something different in the meantime, or the ISS isn't going to fulfil anywhere near it's potential for research.

    Paul.

  • by foistboinder (99286) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:24PM (#4767866) Homepage Journal

    Evict the Russians if they are not willing or able to pay,

    Unfortunately, it's the Russians that provide the Soyuz spacecraft (the only means for escape if soemthing goes wrong) and the unmanned Progress spacecraft. The ISS could not operate without either of these (especially the Soyuz).

  • Re:ISS Costs (Score:2, Informative)

    by CrazyDuke (529195) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:28PM (#4767902)
    "Perhaps NASA should redirect more of its money from the ISS to new propulsion technologies (nuclear etc) to reduce lift costs (yes I know you probably wouldnt want to do a launch from the ground to LEO with nuclear rockets, but perhaps other avenues could be approached)."

    Things like this? [space.com]

  • by FlemLion (572837) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:39PM (#4767997) Homepage
    I think NASA should look more closely in the mirror first. Their own statement that they are delaying or canceling the CRV (Crew Return Vehicle) is what has put into question the whole viability of the ISS in the first place.

    If it was not for the Soyuz that's attached there now, the ISS would not be inhabited at this time. What do they want now, have the Russians cough up a second Soyuz, so at least a crew of six could stay, because they are not up to their part of the CRV?

    And by the way, this is no treat at all for the Russians, they were the first to suggest this, when NASA started complaining about the CRV.

  • Some fun links (Score:4, Informative)

    by ShawnDoc (572959) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:48PM (#4768070) Homepage
    Just for discussions sake, here's a few links and excerpts:

    The Space Station's Cost [spaceprojects.com]

    INITIAL DESIGN PAPERWORK -- $10 billion
    HARDWARE -- $25 billion
    SHUTTLE SERVICING COSTS -- $20 billion
    MAINTENANCE -- $41 billion
    YEAR 2001 COST OVERRUN (disclosed immediately AFTER the presidential election of 2000): $5 billion.

    Scrap the Shuttle Program [spacedaily.com]

    documents how the USA slipped to just 29% of the world's launch market share in the year 2000, even though we had 48% of it in 1996, and apparently all of it the decade before.

    How did this happen if NASA has a larger space budget than all other civilian space agencies combined, as well as its Congressional mandate to: "seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space"? How did some countries evolve from non-players in space two decades ago into dominant commercial players today?

    Perhaps NASA should build a "Sea Station" 1000 feet below the sea and use submarines to take foreigners and other salaried government tourists on "missions" to conduct "experiments" and set "endurance records" while "improving international relations". This idea may seem crazy, but it would be much cheaper than the shuttle program and accomplish just as much.

    Imagine what could happen if the $4 billion a year and 30,000 shuttle experts were diverted to R&D?

    I just can't help but feel the whole ISS and Shuttle Programs are a waste of money. I'm much rather see NASA's time and money spent researching other ways of getting into space.

  • Aha! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Raul654 (453029) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:53PM (#4768118) Homepage
    I did a quick websearch -- Nasa had a page up (which has since disappeared), but there are copies [mu.org] floating around out there. Interesting reading though.
  • by AndroidCat (229562) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:57PM (#4768152) Homepage
    But really, how many fatal accidents has the Soyouz TM had? (0) how many the US shuttle? (1)

    On launch perhaps, but they did lose a crew of three on a reentry depressurization. (And public knowledge of losses during the Soviet era is scarce. I say public because I'm sure the US alphabet agencies have a pretty good idea.)

  • by redfiche (621966) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @12:58PM (#4768159) Journal
    The reason the Russians don't have any money is all their commercial ventures are falling apart. From the article:

    One contributing factor to the budget crisis was the failure in recent months of commercial flights aboard Soyuz vehicles. Although some seats have been sold to European astronauts, the financial collapse of the project to fly pop singer Lance Bass, and the apparent inability of the Russians to find a paying customer for the third seat on the Soyuz that is set to launch next April, have resulted in losses of between $20 million and $30 million. Each Soyuz spacecraft costs $10 million, with additional costs to launch and operate.

    Current demand for space tourism does not match the cost. There aren't even enough requests to fill the lockers with experiments or other cargo. The ISS provides very little value, and I don't blame the Russians, especially with their economy, for not wanting to pour any more money into this thing. Especially with their recent spectacular failure trying to launch a comm sattelite.

  • by simong_oz (321118) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:00PM (#4768177) Journal
    In short, no :)

    The Pirs module has two docking ports which can accomodate either a Soyuz (3-person emergency lifeboat) or the Progress (unmanned resupply ship), so if there were 2 Soyuz docked to the ISS, then it would be impossible to resupply the ISS (except with the shuttle and that would be bloody expensive).

    Here [russianspaceweb.com] is some good information
  • by foistboinder (99286) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:02PM (#4768194) Homepage Journal

    (i.e., do you asphyxiate before you freeze to death?).

    Considering that vacuum acts like an insulator, you'll long be dead before you freeze to death.

  • by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:05PM (#4768218) Journal
    Unfortunately, you're right. The shuttle and ISS were both programs that ended up sucking the life out of the space program.

    The space shuttle was originally supposed to be good for 100 missions per copy, at about $100 million turn-around cost. Now it's 25 missions per copy (unless they blow up earlier) at $500 million and up turn-around cost.

    The whole space program - from Mercury to Apollo - cost only $25 billion, and it did REAL science.

  • by TheMidget (512188) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:08PM (#4768241)
    I disagree - If I am not mistaken, the pressure difference your body (14 lb/sqr inch) and space (~0) would cause you to explode almost instantly.

    That pressure difference is the same as 10 meter shallow water, and surface. And for a ten meter dive, you don't even need to do a safety stop!

  • by Smidge204 (605297) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:16PM (#4768328) Journal
    The difference is the deep sea fish are dealing with a MUCH higher pressure difference. At just 300 feet, you've got a pressure difference of about 150psi. (And some of these samples are take from over a mile down).

    At a pressure difference of 14psi (slightly higher, actually), you could easily rupture some of the ore fragile tissues - ear drums, sinuses and tear ducts perhaps. The rest of the body would hold up fine all things considered.

    So the real, immediate enemy would be heat loss. With no air, theres no convection. The only heat loss is radiation... and unfortunately for you the inky blackness of space is about 4 degrees kelvin (last I heard, anyway). You'ld freeze before you'ld suffocate.
    =Smidge=
  • by saider (177166) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:19PM (#4768361)
    the pressure difference your body (14 lb/sqr inch) and space (~0) would cause you to explode almost instantly.

    Your flesh has enough cohesion to hold itself together, even in a vacuum. When people climb Mt. Everest, where the pressure drops about 40%, they do not explode.

    IIRC, the US Air Force has some data on it (too lazy to search right now). The results would be a lot like "the bends" that divers get. Although your blood would not instantly boil, many of the gasses would come out of solution and cause bubbles to form in your blood vessels. This gas would increase the pressure in your blood vessels, damaging the more delicate ones exposed to the vacuum (such as lungs and eyes). As the gas comes out of solution, your internal pressure rises and the process reaches equilibrium. However, you have bubbles in your blood and torn capillaries in various critical regions. This combined with the lack of oxygen is ultimately what would kill you in a vacuum.
  • by Buran (150348) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:31PM (#4768487)
    Five shuttles? Don't count Enterprise -- she can't fly in space. There are four: Columbia, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour.

    Discovery is down for maintenance and upgrades right now, which leaves three. Columbia is too heavy to fly to the space station with any amount of useful payload on board, so she flies research missions that don't dock with the station -- the next flight will be a research mission, actually.

    That leaves two: Endeavour, in orbit now, and Atlantis, which is being processed right now to carry the next bit of the station up. When Atlantis is up, Endeavour will be in processing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:44PM (#4768612)
    No, vacuum is an extremely good insulator (think thermos flasks!). With no convection (or conduction) the main source of heat loss is removed. Heat loss from radiation is very very slow.

    Ironically their may well be a serious problem with sunburn, if the subject had any exposed skin.
  • NASA Blackmail? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @01:53PM (#4768681)
    Contrary to the misconception of many posters, NASA isn't threatening to evacuate the ISS in order to get money from the Russians. NASA doesn't get any money from the Russians or its other ISS partners. (They refer to this as the "no exchange of funds" principle.) What they get from the Russians (as Russia's contribution to ISS) is hardware and operational services. In particular, the Russians provide the Soyuz emergency return vehicle and the Progress resupply vehicle. Without these elements, crews cannot remain aboard the ISS.

    NASA isn't making threats. They've been warned by the Russians that they (the Russians) may be unable to provide the necessary Soyuz and Progress vehicles. So NASA has no choice but to prepare to abandon the ISS, at least temporarily.

    In retrospect, reliance on the Russians for critical ISS capabilities was clearly a very bad idea. This is yet another example of a Clinton administration policy which has proved to be a disaster.
  • by aiabx (36440) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:36PM (#4769090)
    Vacuum only acts as an insulator as far as conduction of heat is concerned. You will still radiate away all of your heat, and pretty quickly too, though probably not as quickly as you would asphyxiate.
    -aiabx
  • by spike hay (534165) <blu_ice@v i o l a t e . m e.uk> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @02:53PM (#4769200) Homepage
    You will not explode in a vacuum, provided you exhale before depressurization. In space, you would remain concious for about 10 seconds (this happened to one person who was accidentally depresurized during training.) and you would live for about 2 minutes. It takes a long time for the blood in all of your tiny little capillaries to boil off and cause swelling, long enough for you to die of asphyxiation before you have to worry about that.
  • by spike hay (534165) <blu_ice@v i o l a t e . m e.uk> on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @03:16PM (#4769409) Homepage
    Actually, there is quite a bit of free iron on the surface of the moon from asteriods, about .05%. This can be extracted simply be running the soil past electromagnets.

    Also, you could have a fiberglass composite inflated structure (very lightweight) with a couple feet of rocks piled on top to protect from radiation.
  • by ivan256 (17499) on Wednesday November 27, 2002 @03:29PM (#4769480)
    Considering our current government, I'd think the U.S. would be much more likely to cover up astronaut deaths than freedom loving russians.

    What kind of comment is that exactly? Really, I think there are people out there that like to take random shots our government for fun because they can't comprehend that a government can do both good and bad things at the same time. Besides, our government hardly has anything to do with wether something like this would be covered up in the US. People can go watch the launches in person here, and have always been able to (from a distance anyway). They're also televised. If the thing blows up, the government isn't going to be able to cover it up.

    Besides, I said nothing about the current Russian government or society, I was talking exclusivly about things that happened before the end of the Soviet Union.

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