Back in 2009, I had the honor of interviewing best-selling author and West Virginia native Homer Hickam about the space program. He was near apoplectic at the idea that the U.S. was about to mothball the space shuttle and we would be depending on the Russians to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
“We can’t trust the Russians,” he said.
This was in October of 2009. Don’t say we weren’t warned.
According to the Russians, there was an “anomaly” with the booster rocket and the capsule was jettisoned and made a rough landing on terra firma. No injuries were reported, except Russia’s pride, I guess.
And a few weeks back, there was the discovery of a hole in the Russian capsule docked to the space station. Oxygen was leaking out, but it was quickly repaired.
But since then, the origin of the hole has been something of a mystery. Was it made by a piece of space junk flying at hundreds of miles per hour? Or was it deliberately put there by some Russian technician before the capsule left Earth?
Having read Scott Kelly’s book “Endurance,” I learned that the Russian space equipment is pretty basic. He wrote that it’s not as sophisticated as what NASA is used to but, he said, it gets the job done.
Since the space shuttle program is no more, the only U.S. vehicle to the space station will be a SpaceX capsule due to launch next June. Until then, we will have to continue counting on the Russians to get us there.
There are three crew members on the space station now and it remains unclear when they might see their two colleagues. They have enough supplies, so there is no real crisis. At least not until the Doritos run out.
I remember when I interviewed Hickam, the famed Rocket Boy said it was “a national disgrace” that the U.S. had abandoned the space shuttle with no replacement in the works.
As it is, we are still awaiting a U.S.-made vehicle a decade later. And it’s being manufactured by a company whose top guy smokes pot on podcasts and insults people on Twitter.
Elon Musk launched one of his Tesla cars into space not long ago, but getting humans to the space station in one piece will be a bit more difficult.
Hickam proved to be quite prescient some 9 years ago about two things — it was probably not a good idea to trust the Russians to ferry us to the space station and it was a dumb, dumb, dumb idea to ground the space shuttle without a replacement waiting in the wings.
But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.