Although the United States bears the title of the only country to place astronauts on the moon, the situation for NASA has dimmed in recent years. With the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program, NASA no longer has a viable means for transporting men and material to the International Space Station (ISS), as the planned replacement programs for the Space Shuttle have been shut down out of a lack of funds. However, NASA has managed to gain recent success with the Curiosity Mars rover, which landed on Mars in August. They have also announced the “Space Launch System” program, which plans to develop a manned spacecraft whose first flight (Albeit without astronauts aboard) will be in 2017.
Russia’s space agency, currently known as Roskosmos, on the other hand, is often regarded in America as inferior or inadequate. This is mostly because of the number of accidents and deaths associated with the Soviet space agency’s failures in the past. However, there were many successes such as Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin’s flight that placed the Russians ahead in the Space Race. In fact, up until the Moon landing of Apollo 11, the U.S.S.R. was actually ahead of the U.S. in many areas of space travel. And as of now, the Russian Soyuz rockets are among the only spacecraft making resupply trips to and from the ISS. Not to mention Soyuz is also now being operated by commercial companies such as Arianespace, as well as taking American astronauts to the ISS.
An overlooked and currently growing member of the space community is the European Space Agency. Founded in 1975, the ESA has recently grown in capability, research and development because of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the end of the Cold War, allowing new members such as Poland and the Czech Republic, a country particularly known for a few remarkable scientific advancements. While the ESA’s accomplishments had never been huge leaps forward for the scientific community compared to NASA, progress is beginning to greatly increase. The ESA has produced highly successful rockets such as the Ariane 5 and Vega, both of which are capable of carrying payloads into orbit and resupplying the ISS.
With three major space agencies attempting to gain a foothold in the post-Cold War community, is there the possibility of a new space race emerging between NASA, the ESA, and Roskosmos? All three organizations utilize the Soyuz rocket, but now there is a growing independence between the three and each is producing new rockets. In America, there is a growing amount of private companies such as Virgin Galactic that plan to advance space exploration through industries such as space tourism. As the ESA expands, it’s development of spacecraft and launch vehicles becomes less reliant on NASA and Soyuz, and Roskosmos is currently enjoying a monopoly on re-usable rockets and the sale of Soyuz to multiple countries and organizations. It seems what is holding NASA, Roskosmos, and the ESA together is the ISS, which all three organizations are committed to advancing and maintaining.