Does International Space Station have any kind of future? (Editorial)

Expedition 49 Qualification Exams

In this image released by NASA, from left, U.S astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko pose in front of Russian Soyuz space craft simulator during their final pre-flight training session at the Gagarin Cosmonauts’ Training Center in Star City, outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. All three are scheduled to blast off to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sept. 23. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

Buddy, can you spare $81.9 million?

Perhaps NASA could adopt that as its unofficial theme song going forward, as that’s how much we pay Russia to ferry each of our astronauts to the International Space Station. But the lyrics would have to be repeatedly changed, as the price per ride just keeps going up and up like, well, like a rocket.

In 2006, we paid about $21.3 million for each seat on a Russian spacecraft.

The trouble, of course, is that since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, hitching a ride on a Russian rocket is the only way to go. Russia, obviously aware of that sad fact, has been pricing those rides accordingly. NASA had been hoping that private ventures operated by companies such as SpaceX and Boeing could take over for the government-run National Aeronautics and Space Administration. So far, however, that dream has been little more than science fiction.

When SpaceX saw a rocket blow up on the launch pad recently, it marked the second catastrophic failure for the company of late. The rocket and its payload – a commercial satellite – were lost, and the launch pad suffered serious damage. But not as much as the reputation of SpaceX.

Boeing, for its part, hasn’t been going great guns, either.

When NASA decided to ground the space shuttle, the future became clear: The International Space Station would sooner or later become a truly big problem.

Sooner or later is now.

It’s long past time to ask real questions about the future of the space station. Can it be maintained? Should it be maintained? Are we simply throwing good money after bad by continuing? Are the possible rewards worth the prohibitive cost? Is the dream of the International Space Station as a space-based center of cooperation and innovation just so much pie in the sky?

Ask even those in the know to list the most significant benefits to have come from the venture, and you’ll not get a very impressive response.

Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that the International Space Station offered more in our collective imagination than it has provided in reality.

Or, rather than actually asking the difficult questions, we could just keep on doing the same old expensive thing over and over again.