January 23, 2022

ISS Contingency Planning for Continuity of Operations

There is currently a high possibility of a Russian war against Ukraine, that could even extend to Poland and the Baltics. Further, military actions and protests in Kazakhstan raise the possibility of losing safe use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome by Russian cosmonauts and Progress cargo flights for some period of time.

Therefore, it would be wise for NASA Administrator Bill Nelson to develop contingency plans to continue to operate ISS, the International Space Station in the event of any loss of cooperation by Roscosmos, or during a temporary Russian loss of access to Baikonur.

A graceful temporary or permanent access might include a handover of the Zvezda module with controls unlocked and fully functional. The worst case might be Russians locking their controls and abruptly departing the station to create a crisis.

If there are such contingency plans, perhaps developed at the time of the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine, they should be updated to include the capabilities of SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's forthcoming Starliner for crew transport and reboosting.

Aside from reboosting, planning would include duplicating if necessary other Zvezda-based capabilities. Planning might fit into two categories. Immediate work and equipment necessary to maintain control of the station. Once secured, the focus would be on permanent modifications for reliable operation for the life of ISS--to at least 2030.

In the event of a full departure from the ISS partnership, it would be wise to invite other nations to join ISS as partners, such as India, UAE and South Korea.

By themselves, contingency plans could help deter a Russian leap to war, as one bit of leverage the Kremlin may threaten to encourage U.S. acquiescence to Russian military goals in Ukraine could be to obstruct the continued operation of ISS.

There are of course a great many contingency plans for every possible emergency on ISS. Let's add or update one more to assure continuity of operations no matter what happens in the coming months in Ukraine. And if there is no crisis, we would be better prepared should the need arise in the future.

Photo of ISS credit NASA.

January 8, 2022

Nelson: Need More $ to Beat China. OK, Ask Congress--Now!

In an interview, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson was asked, "could China beat the U.S. back to the moon?" His initial response was encouraging.  "Not if I have anything to say about it, and not if Joe Biden has anything to say about it."

Following up, the Time reporter asked, "And yet the plans to have American boots on the lunar surface have already slipped from 2024 to 2025 at the very earliest. Part of the problem is that NASA’s funding allows for only one launch per year of the SLS moon rocket. Back in the Apollo era, we launched nine crewed moon missions from just 1968 to 1972."

Here's where Nelson's response contradicted the reality. "For a sustained landing program we’ve got to have more money. That’s in the 2023 budget." 

But it's not. The funding is NOT sufficient to allow us to beat China, which intends to beat the U.S. to the Moon and has unlimited funding to do so. And to wait till FY 2023 to accelerate work on SLS, space suits and other key elements is too late.

A personal address to Congress by the Administrator on both the incredible promise of returning to the Moon and the strategic necessity to beat China to preserve free world access to the Moon would result in bipartisan support for the necessary funding.

Then go to three shifts to get it done, like we did with Apollo. Alternatively, empower SpaceX to run a lunar-direct mission with Starship. Either way, the stakes are higher than during the Soviet Cold War. Then the stakes were merely demonstrating with system was better, tyranny or freedom. Today, the stakes are access to space, the Moon and eventually Mars. Administrator Nelson, are you ready for 'launch?' Go!