Space Shuttles Still Necessary

Just a few weeks ago, NASA brought its space shuttle program to a close. The United States will rely on Russian rockets to carry American astronauts and equipment into space, officials said.

It may have been the shortest-lived space exploration strategy in history.

Last week a Russian rocket – the type on which NASA was counting- crashed on a mission to take supplies to the International Space Station. On Monday, it was revealed the station, occupied by two Americans, three Russians and one Japanese astronaut, may have to be abandoned because of the mission failure last week.

NASA officials admit they cannot ferry personnel, equipment or supplies to the station without using Russian rockets. And because no one knows what caused the crash last week, no one is eager to use Moscow’s “birds” until the problem is identified and corrected.

Unless that is done by mid-November, the space station may have to be abandoned. Two Russian Soyuz capsules docked at the station, each equipped to carry three passengers, could be used to return the astronauts to earth.

But the capsules are certified to be safe for only 200 days while in orbit, necessitating the mid-November return unless fresh supplies and equipment can be gotten to the space station.

NASA’s decision to end the space shuttle program was a choice made by President Barack Obama’s administration. Officials say that will free up resources for NASA to develop the next generation of spacecraft.

But ending the program leaves the United States imprudently – and, as events last week proved, dangerously – reliant on spacecraft from Russia and, perhaps, the European Union and Japan.

Obama should admit he has made a mistake and instruct NASA to keep at least one shuttle in service or ready for immediate use, if needed. News of the impact of the shuttles’ grounding on the space station makes the need for a shuttle program crystal clear.