Because of the ending of the Space Shuttle Program, many often assume that America is no longer actively involved in Human Space Flight. This is, however, a misconception, albeit a rather common one. America has had many great and well-publicized mechanical space missions (such as Curiosity, the most recent Mars Rover). Despite not being as well-publicized, our Human Flight Programs are just as active, but they’re active through both government and private programs.
One of the largest current endeavors of Human Space Flight that the United States currently participates in is the International Space Station (ISS). This station is already orbiting the Earth, however, and the crew must be changed intermittently. But how do we switch out this crew? Now that America no longer has space shuttles, we “rent” the Russian Soyuz for near Earth orbit transfer.
Soyuz means “union,” an oddly fitting name for a spacecraft which transports astronauts from all over the world to an international space station. This partnership isn’t free though. In fact, it’s far from it. Each seat on the Soyuz costs over 60 million American dollars. The agreement between America and Russia is set to last until 2020. This is the same time that the ISS is contracted for, but it will hopefully not mark the end of international space cooperation.
Despite enduring modifications over time (such as upgraded computers, shock absorbency, etc.) the Soyuz has remained basically the same for nearly 60 years. Since being developed in the 1960’s, capsule technology has been Russia’s favored method and is also expected in almost all future Mars missions. The Soyuz, like most capsule spacecrafts, is composed of three parts: an orbital, reentry, and service module. The orbital module is where non propulsion equipment is stored. This includes cargo, experiments, provisions, and people. The reentry module is used for… reentry. A headlight shaped cone, the reentry module is designed to protect the crew from extreme heat, deceleration, and landing. The service module is located at the back of the Soyuz and contains the systems for life support, electricity, and propulsion.
While not currently capable of independent space flight, America is still working towards future goals. A large, central, goal being a mission to Mars. For the present, however, international cooperation in space exploration has reached an all time high. Beginning in 1975 with the Apollo Soyuz Test Project, and continuing to this day in the partnership between America and Russia, we hope that cooperation will continue to play a major role in our future space exploration.
Photo Credit: NASA