Space is a harsh environment. Now, with the Cold War ended and the world economy fragile, harsh budget realities are forcing tough decisions on space planners, in Europe and the former Soviet Union as well as the United States.
The European Space Agency, which had spent $1 billion on an independent space station and its own Hermes shuttle, now is backing off. Instead of completing the 14-year, $50-billion program, the Europeans want to commit only to technology demonstrations, redirecting a smaller re-entry vehicle toward new missions and focusing on international cooperation.
The Russians say they are mothballing their own space shuttle and want to join the European Space Agency. Even without a formal proposal, Europe's space officials are letting contracts for joint ventures with the Russians. Eager to use Russia's huge launch fleet, the Europeans still share American fears about the effect of a too-rapid boost of cheap launch services into a tight satellite market. How to prevent destruction of Western companies with tenuous positions in an already competitive launch market has yet to be worked out.