We’re less than three years away from the end of America’s manned space flight program:
In 2 1/2 years, just as the [international space] station gets fully assembled, the United States will no longer have any spacecraft of its own capable of carrying astronauts and cargo to the station, in which roughly $100 billion is being invested. The three space shuttles will be retired by then, because of their high cost and questionable safety, and NASA will have nothing ready to replace them until 2015 at the earliest.
For five years or more, the United States will be dependent on the technology of others to reach the station, which American taxpayers largely paid for. To complicate things further, the only nation now capable of flying humans to the station is Russia, giving it a strong bargaining position to decide what it wants to charge for the flights at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are becoming increasingly testy.
In addition, some fear the price will be paid not only in billions of dollars but also in lost American prestige and lost leverage on the Russians when it comes to issues such as aiding Iran with its nuclear program.
The amount of time and money we’ve wasted since the last astronaut left the moon is, quite frankly, astounding but it will just become humiliating when we have to start depending on the Russians for carpooling to the ISS.