An abandoned cosmodrome. Location and photographer unknown. More photos here.
So, Russia's decided to ditch human space travel:
Moscow no longer sees manned spaceflight as its top priority but remains committed to its International Space Station obligations, the head of Russian space agency Roskosmos said on Wednesday.
Russia holds a monopoly on flights to and from the 16-nation station. Soyuz launches from its Baikonur cosmodrome are now the only way to space since the United States retired its 30-year shuttle programme in July.
NASA pays it more than $50 million per flight to send its astronauts to the space outpost.
Roskosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin said Russia was spending almost half of its space budget on manned flights and needed to shift focus to more technology-oriented projects. He added however it would stand by its station commitments.
"Unfortunately manned spaceflight accounts for an unjustifiably large part of the budget: It makes up 48 percent," he told reporters at Russia's flagship MAKS airshow near Moscow.
No, it doesn't mean the end of manned spaceflight entirely, but combined with the end of NASA's shuttle program, it's yet another move in the wrong direction.
So, NASA's bowed out of major human space travel for the foreseeable future, Russia's followed suit. Who does that leave? China? Europe? Weyland-Yutani?
For all the talk that private industry might take over the space race, it doesn't look feasible in the near future. The whole enterprise lacks, so far, the huge returns shareholders generally crave. Long-term planning is not corporate culture's strong suit.
What I'd like to see is an alliance. Instead of looking at expenses and dwindling budgets and going "cut!" space agencies should take a cue the cooperation that's increased since the end of the Cold War. Throw together the reduced space agencies, a few more forward-looking private businesses and some coordinating non-profits with the overall goal of advancing space travel. Split the costs and the potential gains in research and resources. This might even allow rising powers like India, South Africa and Brazil to join in, as they could gain access to existing infrastructure and expertise for an investment, without the huge up-front cost of having to build their own programs. Cash-strapped but infrastructure-rich agencies like NASA and Roskosmos get much-needed funds. Business gets a safer investment, because the odds are better than going solo. The non-profits, especially the scientific ones, get to advance their own goals. Win-win, if it was done right.
Of course, as I observed after the end of the space shuttle program, that solution would require motivation: cultures that viewed space travel as a serious priority. Right now, that's seriously lacking.