Ending funding for the International Space Station (ISS) will mean the US is in danger of falling into a ‘national security black hole’, a top official has warned.
Former congressman Bob Barr said that in the absence of more funding, America’s manned space programme will start to ‘fade to “lights out” starting next year’.
Certain Washington bureaucrats are looking to stop funding for the ISS in the coming years – meaning Russia and China will be most likely to become space leaders, he warned.
Just a few months ago it was revealed the Trump administration was looking to privatise the ISS after 2024.
Ending funding for the International Space Station (pictured) will mean the US is in danger of falling into a ‘national security black hole’, a top official has warned
Ever since astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon in 1969, the US has been dominant in space.
However, that could all be about to change, according to an in-depth opinion piece for The Hill written by Mr Barr, who was Republican congressman from Georgia serving from 1995 to 2003.
The ISS has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.
But Carr said the ISS has suffered repeated programme cuts in recent years and now consumes a ‘minuscule part’ of the federal budget.
At the moment, Nasa, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, a level of funding that is endorsed by the Trump administration and Congress.
‘As things stand now, thanks to fiscal cutbacks and America’s failure to develop any spacecraft to replace the Space Shuttle (which was closed down in 2011), the only way an American astronaut can travel to the ISS is by paying Russia an average of $75 million (£56m) per person to hitch a ride on a Soyuz space taxi’, Mr Barr wrote.
‘And even that program — which is dependent on Russia’s continued good faith in meeting its commitments — is set to expire next year’.
This budget-cutting ‘would have ramifications far beyond the scientific and national security “black hole” into which our manned space program would plunge’, he said.
Although private sector technology is improving, he does not believe it is sophisticated enough to replace the role currently played by Nasa.
This means the ‘two most serious national security adversaries, Russia and China, are poised to step up to the plate to continue the ISS and beyond’, he warned.
This would be a ‘fiscal, scientific and national security folly of the highest order’, he wrote.
In February it was announced the Trump administration is thinking about privatising the ISS, according to Nasa documents obtained by the Washington Post.
Back in February it was announced the Trump administration is thinking about privatising the ISS, according to Nasa documents
‘The decision to end direct federal support for the ISS in 2025 does not imply that the platform itself will be deorbited at that time – it is possible that industry could continue to operate certain elements or capabilities of the ISS as part of a future commercial platform,’ the document read.
‘Nasa will expand international and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit,’ the document said.
More would be given to the project for additional years ‘to enable the development and maturation of commercial entities and capabilities which will ensure that commercial successors to the ISS – potentially including elements of the ISS – are operational when they are needed.’
WHAT IS THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION?
The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000.
The space station is currently home to two Russians, three Americans and one Japanese.
Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.
The International Space Station (file photo) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth
ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.
The US space agency, Nasa, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, a level of funding that is endorsed by the Trump administration and Congress.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees Nasa has begun looking at whether to extend the program beyond 2024.
Alternatively the money could be used to speed up planned human space initiatives to the moon and Mars.
The International Space Station, argued one of the Post’s sources, Andrew Rush, the chief executive of Made in Space, ‘is built for science and human exploration, it’s not built for profit seeking.’
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, is already encouraging the White House to scrap this plan.
‘As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can do is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead,’ argued Cruz, according to the Post.
Approximately $100 billion ($75bn) in taxpayer cash has been used to build and operate the orbiting piece of real estate.
Cruz also said that he hoped the recent reports that Nasa might cancel funding ‘prove as unfounded as Bigfoot,’ and blamed the decision on the ‘numskulls’ at the Office of Management and Budget.
A public-private partnership was more palatable to the Texas Republican.
‘I think all of us are open to reasonable proposals that are cost effective and that are utilizing the investments we made in a way that maximizes their effectiveness,’ Cruz said.
Boeing already operates the station for the U.S. government, with taxpayers paying the company around $3 to $4 billion (£2.2 – 3bn) annually.
Having heard last month about Nasa’s potential plans, Boeing’s space station program manager Mark Mulqueen also said they were bad.
‘[W]alking away from the International Space Station now would be a mistake, threatening American leadership and hurting the commercial market as well as the scientific community,’ Mulqueen said, according to the Post.