Russia rolls back space aspirations

The recent crash of an ISS-bound space freighter has prompted Russia to consider the possibility of ending its permanent human presence in space. 

“Perhaps in the future, we will not need a constant manned presence in  lower Earth orbit [like the International Space Station],” Roskosmos deputy director Vitaly Davydov told AFP.

“We don’t exclude the possibility of returning to the concept of DOS (long-term orbital) stations that we had before stations with constant human presence.”

According to Davydov, classic Soviet-era space station designs, which included the Salyut, served as a base for incoming ships, and were not meant to act as permanent structures.  

Davydov’s comments, while not entirely unexpected, clearly mark the end of an era during which both the United States and Russia placed an emphasis on maintaining manned space flight capabilities.

Indeed, the U.S. recently retired its shuttles, leaving the future of manned space exploration to private companies like SpaceX. However, it remains unclear when NASA will approve manned commercial space flights to the ISS and beyond.

As such, it appears increasingly likely that China – which is slated to launch its Tiangong 1 space laboratory in the near future – may eventually be the only country with a permanently-crewed space station.

Chinese media reports indicate that the Tiangong 1, or “Heavenly Palace,” represents the first element of Beijing’s plan to develop a manned space station, which could theoretically be fully operational by 2020.