Never one to miss the chance to boast about its own space achievements, Russia officially sounded off the sirens with a declaration that human space travel is now in the "era of the Soyuz." This comes hot off the heels of the Space Shuttle Atlantis' final landing and the complete close to the program altogether.
The official statement put out by Russia's space agency Roskosmos said, "From today, the era of the Soyuz has started in manned space flight, the era of reliability."
Is that a dig at the Shuttle program? It sure sounds like one.
For those who don't know much about Russia's Soyuz rockets, here's the quick low-down: they're basically vertical rocket and capsule systems that have been around since the early 1960s, parachuting back to safety upon returning to Earth instead of landing on a runway, like the shuttle. Of course, The Soyuz capsule isn't the same one from the '60s — Russia has made improvements.
Without a means to transport humans back into space (until 2016, at least), the U.S.'s only solution will be to piggyback on a Russian Soyuz rocket, wait to see how that modified Atlas V rocket works or how the private sector will step in.
Russia deflected claims that the Soyuz was too ancient with insight that on-board analog computers were being replaced with digital ones — a move that's supposed to "modernize" the old spacecraft. Meanwhile, new Soyuz spacecraft are still generations away due to safety worries.
Although the old space rival praised the Shuttle's 30 years of work in space, Russia said its doom was written on the wall due to high maintenance costs and safety issues. Despite the Soyuz having killed four astronauts in two accidents in the past (two accidents for the Shuttle, too — Challenger and Columbia), Roskosmos remained confident that the Soyuz was much more reliable and cost efficient than the Shuttle program.
No matter what side of the fence you stand on, Russia's Soyuz is the U.S.'s only interim solution. Hopefully, NASA will have sorted out things in five years to put the U.S. back in the space game.