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Friday, December 25, 2009

Time for China-US-Russia Joint Human Missions in 2012-2013 to Space Stations

PROPOSAL: The future of space is internationally important as evidenced by the serious efforts of the Chinese civilization becoming the third in the world, behind Russia and the United States, to launch humans to low earth orbit repeatedly. A multinational space mission is exactly what is needed to be planned in 2010 to become operational in a multinational "Project 2012" (using Chinese space parlance).

An American-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) could be organized to execute a contract with Virginia-based Space Adventures to purchase a $100-million USD dedicated Russian Soyuz 2012 spaceflight. The mission would be crewed by perhaps a Russian spaceflight commander/pilot cosmonaut, a Chinese taikonaut passenger, and an American commercial astronaut-diplomat -- all of distinguished careers --- to fly for a 10-day stay at the International Space Station. Such a People-to-People-like space mission would demonstrate the possibilities for multinational cooperation in human spaceflight. The concept mission would be well worth Chinese financial investment giving the civilization-state the desired recognition as an equal partner in the human exploration of space.

But there should be a second People-to-People-like mission whereby a second $100-million USD Russian Soyuz would be contracted in 2013. The purpose of the second mission would be to fly a multinational crew of a Russian spaceflight commander/pilot cosmonaut, a Chinese taikonaut passenger, and an American NASA astronaut (should 'the agency' accept the gesture). The purpose of the mission would be to rendezvous in space with a Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft at (or near) the planned Chinese space station known as Tiangong-1. There a Chinese taikonaut crew member could be exchanged between the orbiting Soyuz and Shenzhou for seperate returns from orbit. The crew-swap would constitute the first Chinese space station crew exchange.

The importance of a joint mission to the Chinese Tiangong-1 station is for the Chinese to provide 'clarity of intent' to the West, and the United States Congress more specifically, that the new spacefaring nation openly petitions to be a part of civil space exploration and discourse without hostile intent.

In 2009 this blogger visited China, read Chinese space-related literature, and listened to informed commentators. The Project 2012 concept has been vetted (through the creation of a draft paper and Power Point) with Space Adventures, US academic Chinese space experts, commercial space lawyers and space policy experts, business organizations, a member of the United States Congress, and others gaining vaired reactions.

With United States President Barack Obama clearly sending signal of his desire to cooperate with China in space, it is time to make this proposal more open and direct with the Chinese. It is time for breakthrough diplomacy in space that captures global imagination while utilizing the existing and short-term planned space assets to set the larger political foundation for government-to-government [G2G] international human space policy progress and action. The Project 2012 concept is more significant and more challenging than the Apollo-Soyuz handshake of yesteryear. The American government would not have a human-rated booster rocket in the space center stable.

Your views would be welcomed in the comment section below or in a direct connection via e-mail or cellular telephone or a 'Tweet.' It is time to think ahead of the curve and advance human space cooperation to the next level.

Think about it; John F. Kennedy did.


Spaceyaan said...

Excellent Three main countries are joining hands to explore new space secrets, It sounds good.
India is also spending huge money to find new myths

Robert Horning said...

China has been asking to join in with the ISS coalition for years, particularly since they started up their own manned spaceflight program. While the USA was cool to the idea, Russia is one country that would take a very hard sell to agree to this idea, much less Japanese support for the idea (another of the major ISS partners).

One of the objectives of the ISS, for good or ill, was to act as a "vehicle" to transfer technology about how to build large-scale space stations similar to how the Salyut and Mir were put together, and give a chance for American astronauts to see first-hand how space construction could happen. America paid dearly for acquiring that kind of knowledge.

What China wants is the ability to do just that... but on the cheap as China likes to do everything. They want the knowledge and technical skills to build "stuff" in space, but without having to pay for developing that technology.

Now if China wants to "take over" the $100 billion investment that the USA has made on the ISS instead of letting NASA splash the thing into the Pacific Ocean, I suppose that is a better use of the spacecraft. Perhaps congress, upon seeing it offered at a flea market price, might start to get a little more serious about manned spaceflight.

Still, there are a whole bunch of other folks who would need to be convinced, and it isn't just the 535 members of congress or President Obama.

I certainly don't think that Americans paying for a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to send up Chinese astronauts is necessarily a smart thing to do... politically or economically. If the Chinese want to get up to the ISS on their own dime, perhaps. If the Chinese want to put up a module on the ISS and help contribute in a significant manner, that is certainly something that could be discussed.

JackKennedy said...

Robert thank you for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate your posting them for further discussion.

1] The United States government, per se, would not pay a cent to the Russians to put Chinese in space. US taxpayers are already paying enough to put NASA astronauts in orbit.

PLEASE permit be to be absolutely clear and on-point: A non-government organization, I suggest only as the contract organizers.

2] THERE is NO presumption that China be invited to be a partner in the ISS. That is not the role of a NGO contactor. That would take much longer diplomatic efforts among nations, foreign minitries, and space agencies.

3] THERE must be a starting point with the Chinese. An American NGO can be a conduit to get a couple of flights to happen with American participation on a Russian Soyuz.
Flights to two locations; first, the ISS; second, the would-be China space lab.

TO ORGANIZE spaceflight campaigns would generate a single Chinese national to visit the ISS for a week to a fortnight would in no way result in a $100-billion technology transfer.

Robert Horning said...

I just don't see the Chinese being content for a quick trip up into the ISS. If they go up, it would be there to stay, to show that they are an equal partner and a major world power equal to Russia and America.

Since you've been to China, I presume you understand the concept of "saving face" and how critical it is to the Chinese psyche. I've also been in business negotiations with Chinese businesses directly, and my father-in-law happens to be a plant manager of a major food processing plant in China. They want nothing less than the whole thing, full access to the ISS and to be able to jointly participate in the research and staffing of the space station.

Going up on Russian rockets would be incredibly embarrassing and would be a P.R. nightmare for the Chinese government to its own people. For them, it would be better to have simply stayed away, claiming that the ISS is simply some "western extravagance" not worth the People's Republic's time and money.

As a first step for "greater international cooperation" that would lead to major Chinese involvement with the ISS, yes, I could see an initial flight on a joint Chinese, American, and Russian spaceflight that would prove to be useful. But there is no way that China would put up with that as the only flight... it would have to be the first of many planned trips into space... with the idea that eventually it would be Chinese spacecraft docking to the ISS.

Now THAT would be amazing and interesting. Even the logistics of trying to get the docking mechanisms necessary for a Chinese docking to happen would be an interesting diplomatic challenge by itself, not withstanding ITAR restrictions that might keep such technology going to China in the first place. Presumably, since the Chinese are using a Soyuz-derived capsule, they would like to use the Russian docking mechanism instead.... which certainly would an interesting diplomatic negotiation in its own right.

This also opens up a Pandora's box in terms of permitting India and presumably Pakistan (since they can't let India pass them up) from also joining in with the ISS. No, I don't have any inside track on a Pakistani manned spaceflight program, although I could see a joint Pakistani/Iranian program getting set up. Do you think the USA might be willing to let the Iranians on board the ISS?

Yes, this kind of proposal would have some very interesting geo-political consequences if it got any significant headway.

JackKennedy said...

Thanking you for engaging the concept of Project 2012.

Chinese 'contentment' is not the basic premise to the Project 2012. Starting a constructive engagement among three human spacefaring nations is the premise. Sparking discussion among governments to subsequently address the myriad of issues is the nutshell idea, a 'jump-start.'

The Chinese have demonstrated the status a human spaceflight capable nation filled with its own sense of national pride as was the case in the heady days of the earlier Russian (Soviet) and American programs. A Project 2012 would enable the Chinese human space to begin to integrate with Russian and American programs on-orbit. Every effort must begin at a point.

Agreed, "(the Chinese) want ... full access to the ISS and to be able to jointly participate in the research and staffing of the space station."

The only way to start inclusion is to open the door of the ISS to a single Chinese taikonaut perhaps Yang Liwei for symbolic purposes). The Soyuz is the only commercial or civil ride to the ISS in 2012.

The proposed American crew member for a Soyuz-to-ISS with Chinese participant would be a former Bush-appointed diplomat (now private citizen) trained to fly a Soyuz to the ISS. In my judgment, her being a part of the crew provides a diplomatic People-to-People-like segue opportunity.

Agreed, that the Chinese would subsequently have to work with the Russians to develop a docking port assembly if there was a
partner government agreement that addressed issues associated with ITAR and other technology transfer policy issues.

BUT the Chinese would have engaged (started) and the political process through Project 2012 to gain approval for an ISS expansion.

The Chinese would have expectations to access the ISS especially after a second Souyz flight to meet-up with a Shenzhou spacecraft at the planned
Chinese Tiangong space lab with an American commercial or NASA astronaut. They (the Chinese) would be opening their doors in space. The hot links in the proposal have purpose.

Such a level of 'clarity of intent,' or 'transparceny' in Western diplomatic parlance, would give rise to a much more serious long-term confidence building measures as the Chinese say at the United Nations.

While others have privately told me the proposed new-NASA astronaut suggested for a Project 2012 human spaceflight on a Soyuz to rendezvous with human Chinese space assets may be one too-far (a former CIA technical analyst),
such a demonstration of 'clarity of intent' as to the peaceful intent and defuse some pent-up hostilities between military programs that Chinese President Hu
Jintao and American President Barack Obama signal that they want to defuse.


JackKennedy said...

The governments may be jolted into finding more common ground on issues of space debris and space weaponization if there was direct engagement in human space --- as the concept of an initial two-flight Project 2012.

Agreed, a Project 2012 success would open the door to India's subsequent participation in the ISS; there may even be a template created. I do not see either individually or a joint Pakistani/Iranian program to the ISS in the next twenty years based on technology maturity and readiness - not to mention
politics. India should be offered a beth on the ISS in my judgment.

American space policy is to leave low earth orbit with international cooperation. To financially support and to utilize shared orbital assets would require significant buy-in by eventually both the Chinese and Indian governments. Project 2012
does not attempt to address these very significant policy issues. the concept seeks only to open the door to such a exceedingly difficult and complex G2G
diplomacy and business deal-making.

Project 2012 may be nothing more than wasted wishful-thinking but that would have been what many would have said about Nixon going to China initially prior to 1972. Project 2012 is nothing more that symbolic diplomatic investment as
was the Nixon-era Soyuz-Apollo test flight.

The the three human spacefaring nations must begin somewhere and Project 2012 simply proposes that step. It does not suggest long-term answers to the array of other policy issues. It may be too much of a political and diplomatic gamble for the Chinese. There is only one way to find out, ask.

Robert Horning said...

I've got to say, I love the tilting at windmills aspect to this idea. If you or anybody else is able to pull this off, it would be an amazing accomplishment. Frankly, I would call this something legitimately worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize (not to take anything away from this year's recipient... but I hope you understand).

One thing I have heard is that the US/Russia cooperation on an individual level with the ISS is nothing short of amazing, and genuine understanding of each other's programs. Even if there exists some bravdo between Russo-American relations, the technical guys are genuinely sharing knowledge, scientific research, and innovations freely between each other to the best of what could have ever been hoped for in terms of genuine international cooperation. If you can add other major world powers into the mix like China, I'm all that much more impressed.

BTW, the Russian Soyuz isn't the only "operational" spaceflight vehicle that may launch in 2012. Discounting the SpaceX Dragon, the Chinese do have an indigenous manned spaceflight capability. That they are rather secretive about their plans in this arena is true, but I'd expect to see some manned Chinese flights in 2012. As a matter of fact, the Shenzhou 10 flight is supposedly going to take place during this time period... docking to a Chinese space station no less.

Not withstanding my own doubts about the Chinese space program (which are considerable), they certainly seem to be very ambitious. It will be interesting to see just how far China goes on this route.

I do agree that at some point the major spacefaring nations do need to engage in a dialog with each other, establishing international communications, docking, and life support standards if only as a start. Some work has been done along this route with efforts by JAXA, NASA, the ESA, and RFSA, and of course the other "ISS partners". Including China into this group would be beneficial, as the international cooperation has already started. Where the difficulty lies is not just with NASA or the U.S. Congress + President, but also including the other nations involved.

I will say that all that many years ago on the USENET newsgroup, when I read that NASA was planning on using Soyuz spacecraft as a "lifeboat" on the ISS, I thought I had just entered Alice's rabbit hole. Literally my jaw dropped when I first heard the rumors of this idea, and to see it as reality where this past week one of them came up to the ISS with an American astronaut, that dream is now reality. That other than the Russian cosmonaut dressed as Santa and bringing on board a Christmas tree was the only thing that made it newsworthy should be even more remarkable. Having seen this kind of development, I'm willing to have an open mind to just about any other crazy idea.

Certainly somebody with some personal drive, determination, and perhaps even chutzpah could pull off an idea like this. I also think that the current global economic and political situation is such that something like this might just happen too, although it sure wouldn't be easy. I do realize that the goal is for something quite simple, as a sort of demonstrator flight using existing technology and making an initial first step toward international cooperation.

Still, be careful when negotiating with the Chinese.... they are natural traders with millenia of experience (which they will remind you of at every possible opportunity). If you aren't careful, you end up promising your first born children and having to pay for the privilege of giving them to the Chinese as well. They make the fictional Ferengi from Star Trek look like pussycats.

Lee Robinson Petzer said...

I wholeheartedly agree! Greater international space co-operation is needed. As it is China should have been included as a member for the ISS in the first place.