June 21, 2011

ISS Faces Tough Transition After Shuttle Retirement

The director general of the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Monday that the International Space Station faces tough times as a result of the U.S. shuttle program ending.

Jean-Jacques Dordain said the scheduled phase-out of the U.S. space shuttle meant "we are not in a very comfortable situation, and that's just a euphemism."

"The biggest lesson from the international space station program is entirely the lack of a joint transportation policy," he said at a press conference on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show.

"The International Space Station is a splendid cooperation between five partners, but they did make a mistake... we didn't discuss things sufficiently," Dordain said.
"Each party made a unilateral decision," Dordain said, admitting though that this approach was "justified on individual grounds."

"NASA made a unilateral decision to stop the shuttle, ESA took the unilateral decision to develop the ATV, Japan took the unilateral decision to develop an HTV. Anarchy," Dordain said in a statement.

The ATV and the HTV are unmanned supply ships, as well as Russia's Progress freighter.

The shuttle has been the key vehicle to take humans and freight to and from the ISS.

NASA's retiring of the space shuttle program means that the station will depend solely on Russia's Soyuz system for transporting astronauts.

The Soyuz is not equipped to take large non-human payloads, such as big experiments or equipment that needs a fix on Earth.

The three other freight systems for the ISS are all designed as a one-way system, which means they are sent to Earth to burn up in the atmosphere after separating from the ISS.

Dordain said ESA had no plans to give Europe its own manned flight capability.

Dordain said ESA and NASA were in talks about possibly adapting the ATV for the U.S space agency, which expects a gap of several years between the end of the shuttle program and the introduction of commercialized human-transportation space flight.

"We are currently discussing with NASA about how we can converge the interests of NASA and the interests of ESA, which are not necessarily the same," he said.

He said ESA hopes that by the fall it will have a convergence of views on a "module," which is a common blueprint that could be used for NASA but also help to expand the use of the ATV.

"We are working but we are still far from a result," he said in a statement.


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