Friday, April 3, 2009

Russia to unveil new spaceship

Russia is ready to debut plans for a new model spaceship on Monday, a ship that could one day carry cosmonauts to the moon.

The as-yet unnamed spacecraft will replace the venerable Soyuz that has been the backbone of manned Russian/Soviet spaceflight since the late 1960's. The new ship would come in at least two versions - a six-seat model for flights in Earth orbit and a four-seater that could travel to the Moon, and possibly beyond. It will be designed to dock either with the International Space Station or a future Russian space station.

Unfortunately though its requirements like that last one, and the moon flight option, that show the International Space Station experiment has ultimately been a failure. Here's why - the whole idea of the ISS was to bring together the world's space-fairing nations (we'll count the European Space Agency as a 'national' program here for simplicity's sake) together on one common project. The rationale is simple, that by working together countries can achieve more than working individually. This is especially true for something as hugely expensive and complex as manned spaceflight.

But in recent years countries have talked less and less about collaborating. The United States has announced plans to return to the Moon, China also has their own lunar plans, so do (apparently) the Russians. The ESA has drawn up plans for its own manned space vehicle; India and even South Korea are working on their own designs as well.

It's a huge duplication of efforts, not to mention costs. A manned mission to Mars would be humankind’s next great step in exploration, and it would also be wildly expensive, likely costing far more than any one country would be willing to spend. It is the type of project that would require international cooperation on a broad scale, the type of cooperation looking less and less likely.
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