Everyone has heard of the International Space Station (ISS) and the many scientific experiments the astronauts conduct there. But have you considered how astronauts get shuttled to and from the station? With the many space agencies like NASA, China International Space Agency, European Space Agency, Indian Research Organization, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency every astronaut contributes their part to ISS. There is also plans for a Lunar Outpost in the coming years.
Generally, the only spacecraft available right now that can send ‘crewed’ or manned missions to ISS is the Russian Soyuz vehicle. But now this craft is in jeopardy due to an anomaly with the booster that resulted in ISS Expedition 57 being aborted. A subsequent ballistic landing commenced within 3 minutes of that launch. An investigation is underway and all future flights are cancelled pending the results. Three astronauts, currently on ISS, will have to wait for another spacecraft, or a re-instated Soyuz vehicle to change out crews and return them safely to earth. A typical six-month rotation with a three month overlap between new and old crews has been unexpectedly extended. Yes, they can be resupplied with unmanned missions but the trials and tribulations of space pay a toll on the human body especially during longer stays.
Why is Soyuz the only craft available to the International space community for manned flights? The answer being other spacecraft are in test phases and trials. SpaceX, a private commercial organization, has taken responsibility for three additional craft. That being the Dragon, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. All capable of transporting crew and cargo to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and ultimately the International Space Station. Boeing has engineered its version, the CST-100 Starliner, to manage the transport of manned and unmanned flights into orbit. NASA has selected the Dragon and the Starliner as their preferred carriers to bring astronauts to ISS. But these spacecraft are not scheduled to perform crewed launches until April and August of 2019 respectfully. Unless the Soyuz is cleared to launch additional crews the future of the International Space Station is uncertain.
Every space agency is interested in the Moon and have indicated their intent to build a Lunar Outpost or Moon Base. One reason would be for the mining of precious minerals such as magnesium, aluminum, silicon and titanium. All of which have been detected there. The other being a staging point for further travel to Mars by which spacecraft can launch from Lunar orbit to the red planet. Colonization of the moon to establish a permanent human presence there is being planned too. But, the cost of spaceflight has hindered efforts to actually achieve a Lunar outpost. Many concepts have been proposed like a module design in a vertical tank like structure with a connecting tunnel or airlock to allow entry and egress. An inflatable spherical design was offered as another option. This design puts heavier items such as environmental control and sleeping quarters on the lowest level, hydroponics and laboratories would be on the middle level while the top level would be used for exercising equipment. Heavy Land Rovers would be employed to take up to 4 crew with supplies for 2 week exploratory Moon missions. All to populate the moon, mine its resources and provide a way point for furtherance to Mars.
For now, all travel has ceased until the Russian Space Agency can figure out the problems on their Soyuz spacecraft and SpaceX and Boeing finish their trials to safely launch humans to space again.