A decade after continuous human habitation on the International Space Station, Russia takes the lead, and will be responsible for ferrying astronauts to the station. Meanwhile, China and India are also coming up.
Humans have been living aboard the ISS for 10 years
This week marks the 10th anniversary of continuous human habitation aboard the International Space Station. Despite the 16 countries that have collectively spent over $100 billion over the past decade, the station's construction is still not complete.
Next year, when the the project is expected to be finally completed, the international space community will have to exclusively rely on the Russian space program to ferry astronauts to and from the station, as NASA is expected to launch one of its final space shuttle missions later this week. That may bring a new level of prestige for the Russian space program, which in 2011 will also celebrate its 50th anniversary of the launch of the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin.
Russian cosmodrome slated to open in 2015
The Russian space industry, which had become a shadow of itself after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is once again enjoying state support. The government has increased spending on the space industry by 40 percent for each of the past five years. In 2009, it received a record $2.8 billion.
In 2011, Endeavor is scheduled to be the final American space shuttle launch
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also confirmed this fall that Russia's new $800 million Vostochny cosmodorome in the country's Far East should be up and running by 2015.
"I must say that the construction of the new space center, commissioned in 2007, is one of the biggest and most ambitious initiatives in Russia today," he said in a speech earlier this year.
"Not only will it confirm Russia's status as a technological leader and boost its potential in science and technology, but, just as importantly, it will allow hundreds, if not thousands, of young specialists to prove themselves, to show their talent, and to make their most ambitious plans come true."
Despite the United States' re-evaluation of their role in the international space community, American authorities are putting a positive spin on a decreased American presence.
"Space is expensive," said Robert Navias, a NASA spokesperson, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. "It's hard to get into orbit, it's very difficult to launch the spacecraft into orbit. And by doing so together, we do so on a collective basis from an economic and technological standpoint that serves both nations much better than if we tried to do it ourselves."
He also acknowledged that while Russia will be responsible for bring astronauts to the ISS, Americans still have a lot to do.
"The Russians in turn are mutually dependant on us for maintaining station's operation since NASA has the lead role in mission operations, oversight of the station's components, and the flight control capability of the station," he added.
"So through our mutual dependence on one another we have actually built a stronger partnership on a global basis using each other's expertise to be able to solve problems quickly."
Russia will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's space flight in 2011
Space research becoming more international
The US said it planned to look to private companies to invest in future spacecraft.
But so far, no private companies have secured such investment. Meanwhile, the Russian Federal Space Agency is set to receive $306 million for U.S. astronauts to fly to the International Space Station in 2012 onboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.
However, the decision to ground the shuttles raises mixed emotions among US astronauts.
"Well, it's kind of sad that the space shuttle is going to be retired," said Mark Kelly, commander of the last scheduled mission of US space shuttle Endeavor in February 2011, in an interview with Deutsche Welle.
"You know, it's an incredible vehicle, there's never been anything like it, that can carry huge payloads, over 30 thousand pounds into orbit, it has an airlock where we could do space walks, it has a robotic arm, we could manipulate payloads, we could capture satellites, we could bring satellites home. I mean to bring home a payload that weighs 30 thousand pounds is just incredible, no spacecraft could every do that before. So to see that capability go away is a little bit sad, but it's been in the plan."
However, as both Moscow and Washington are still leading the space race, their dominance could be soon challenged by India and China, which are funding and developing their own space programs.
The Chinese Shenzhou VII spacecraft is already in operation, and China's first spacewalk took place in 2008, and meanwhile, India has announced a manned spaceflight by 2014.
Author: Anya Ardayeva
Editor: Cyrus Farivar