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U.S., Russian Space Programs Face Similar Political Leadership Issues

By | November 23, 2009
      [Satellite News 11-24-09] Aerospace Industry Association (AIA) Vice President of Space Systems J.P. Stevens warned members of a U.S. congressional science and technology committee that U.S. space programs need “stable and robust” funding in order to maintain world leadership.
          Stevens hinted that congressional support for projects involving NASA and other government partnerships with the commercial sector, has not been sufficient. “Interruptions or cancellations impact large companies and can be catastrophic to smaller firms – often the only entities with the unique abilities to produce small but critical components on which huge portions of our economy, infrastructure and security depend," Stevens said.
          Both Congress and President Obama have been largely critical of NASA and the U.S. private space sector, citing reports from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that long-term space exploration programs have been mismanaged. The government has used budget and program cuts as threats backed by the cancellation of the U.S. Air Force’s TSAT program in April.
      Stevens said it is crucial that politicians in Washington understand the timeframe of space exploration and other programs that take years to accomplish. “To return to the moon or explore asteroids will take several administrations. We can’t keep changing course mid-stream every four or eight years,” he said.
          AIA has been involved in several initiatives to raise awareness and support for the U.S. aerospace industry. The organization spent most of 2009 expressing concerns over U.S. export control policies, declining math and science graduates in the U.S. and the dangers of neglecting an industry that has largely grown throughout the recession. Stevens told Congress that policy boundaries are counterproductive for the space industry and negatively impact economic and security interests.
          “Barriers to the export competitiveness of U.S. companies have prompted numerous countries to develop their own indigenous aerospace capabilities,” Stevens said. “Without a cutting edge U.S. space industrial base, our government could be forced to rely on foreign suppliers for key components.”
           The United States is not alone in facing space program development challenges. Russia, which has been an historical space competitor to the United States for more than half a century, also faces struggles to establish a direction for its space program.
          In a report to the national press agency Novaya Gazeta, Russian cosmonaut and veteran of two International Space Station (ISS) missions Mikhail Tyurin criticized Russian space officials for not having a future plan to sustain the country’s place as a global space industry leader. Tyurin said Russia lacks a viable plan to build a successor to the 40-year old Soyuz spacecraft and that the pre-development phase has dragged on for too long. “The slow progress is due to a lack of clear goals and poor coordination. They have issued an order for a new spacecraft without having any concept," Tyurin said in the report.
           In October, Russian Federal Space Agency Chief Anatoly Perminov revealed a proposition to building a nuclear-powered spaceship for prospective manned missions to Mars and other planets, which surprised Tyurin since Perminov failed to give details or address how Russia plans to develop its ISS transport and other space programs beyond the Soyuz, which has been used as a workhorse. Perminov’s plans “are unfeasible. One vehicle can’t be both a steamroller and a Formula One racer," he said.
           With NASA retiring its shuttle in 2010, the United States will rely on Russia for transportation to the ISS until NASA and the U.S. government implement its successor program. Russian space officials revealed plans to expand the use of Soyuz and Progress spacecraft beyond ISS missions. However, Tyurin warned that if the Russian Space Agency continued to focus solely on Soyuz, the country’s international space role would fall to second-rate status, especially now that the United States and China have expressed interest in future space collaborations.
           “Our partners already have got all they could from us. They won’t take us into the future,” said Tyurin.
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