As the Space Shuttle program nears it's end, the United States is faced with an interesting situation. How does NASA run manned missions into orbit and more specifically, how do they get people to and from the International Space Station? Despite the relative ease of space travel in the movies, getting into space in real time is still a very complex process. While some would like to replace the Space Shuttle with another vehicle, budgetary constraints and changes of philosophy have made this a longer-term project. Building a new vehicle is not a simple process, and it certainly isn't cheap. The United States could theoretically keep using the Shuttle, but NASA does not want to risk running the Shuttle program too long to the point where more lives are lost. Therefore, NASA is turning to the Russian Soyuz capsule for a transport solution. With that in mind, here are a few problems with NASA relying on the Soyuz for travel to the International Space Station.
It doesn't belong to you
One pragmatic challenge for NASA is that the Soyuz vehicle does not belong to the United States. While there is a partnership and an understanding with Russia, it can be a hassle in terms of logistics when NASA cannot plan or control their own transport vehicle. Granted, it will make it less cumbersome for NASA in terms of doing maintenance on the Shuttle, but at the same time NASA will want to have some influence over the condition of the Soyuz. This may be a complicated interaction since countries do not always volunteer their proprietary information to each other.
Another challenge with using the Soyuz is that it depends on the United States and Russia maintaining good international relations. At the moment, there is a partnership and a relative peace between Russian and the U.S. However, these two great countries did engage in a long draw-out "Cold War" that lasted through a couple of generations. Things are good now between the two countries, but nothing is guaranteed when it comes to diplomacy. Granted, it isn't as if the United States and Russian are suddenly going to dissolve into World War III, but the relationship with the International Space Station is complex with numerous countries involved.
Plans to de-orbit
The reality is that the International Space Station will not last forever. There are plans to "de-orbit" the Station within the next decade, at which point partners and logistics will need to be re-thought. While NASA will have some logistics to work out with the use of the Soyuz capsule, it is the type of arrangement that can work for the near future. What the future brings in terms of space travel and exploration is anyone's guess.