If you want to see the price of our dysfunctional government, just look up — up toward the International Space Station.
It once was a symbol of international cooperation but it is now caught in a web of intrigue that threatens its existence. The United States, having shut down the space shuttle, the only craft it had capable of bringing astronauts to and from the space station, is now at the mercy of Russia, which is taking advantage of that situation.
We have a single seat on each flight of a Russian craft — at a cost of $71 million per trip. Only one-third of the crew at the station at any given time is American, even though the U.S. paid for most of the station’s $140 million price tag.
There is plenty of blame to spread around. President George W. Bush got things started when he decided in 2004 that NASA’s mission should be a return to the moon and space colonization. That plan retired the shuttle in favor of building deep space rockets.
But that left a gap between the end of the shuttle program and the launch of new craft capable of carrying people into space.
When Barack Obama became president he decided we needed a quicker way for ferry astronauts to the station and left it up to commercial interests to figure out how to do it.
Congress balked and underfunded the commercial program, which means the first flight will be in 2017, not 2015 as Obama envisioned. Not the best solution but a workable plan — until Russia annexed Crimea.
In the tit-for-tat that followed, the Russians threatened to pull the plug on the Space Station by 2020. That would seem to make it even more urgent to get these commercial flights as soon as possible.
We shouldn’t have to rely on Russia, an unreliable ‘partner’ at best and a country that doesn’t seem to be seeing us as much of an ally in its ambitions.
And we shouldn’t be playing politics with an investment of more than $100 billion.