The 50th anniversary of the first human flight into space comes with the United States about to retire the Space Shuttle. This means that the US will no longer have the ability to place humans into space on its own. Instead, American astronauts must hitch a ride aboard the Russian space capsules known as Soyuz.
Speaking as an American, I find this situation to be rather embarrassing. So I thought, why doesn’t the US buy some Soyuzes and place them atop American-made rockets, such as the Delta 4? And since the patents — if there were any — have long expired, couldn’t we reverse-engineer a Soyuz and make our own version? This is what the Chinese did with their Shenzou capsule.
Since this is a proven design, it would be inexpensive to develop and American astronauts could again be riding American spaceships into orbit within a couple years.
We Americans could of course decide that it is too humiliating to admit that other countries can come up with good ideas. So instead, we will spend years and billions of dollars building a new spacecraft that will probably be more expensive and less reliable than a Soyuz-derived design.
And yet, with the money we would save by going with the experience-proven Soyuz design, we could be circumnavigating the Moon again within five years.