Because of possible problems with the launch of Discovery, the Russians have offered to bring the shuttle crew home in three Soyuz spacecraft in January or February if they "work really hard". The Russian's are even thinking of sending the Soyuz to the moon. And all this, with a 40 year old workhorse. It may not be pretty, it may not be big, but it was there to help out the International Space Station when the shuttle fleet was grounded over two years ago, and it's been the ISS' lifeboat because of the failure of NASA to deliver the X38 Crew Return Vehicle. NASA canceled it April 29th, 2002. Because of the limitation of three crew in the Soyuz (not the Soyuz's fault) the crew of the ISS is limited to no more than 3 crew (two since Columbia, as a cosmonaut needs to pilot Soyuz back). As with so many (should I say all?) of the NASA projects, the X38 was cut when the ISS budget hit $5 Billion over budget in February 2002. Now we subtract one number from 38 and wait for the X37 Orbital Space Plane to take the place of both the shuttle and CRV. Oh wait. It's been canceled too. Now we have the Crew Exploration Vehicle to take over everything. Lovely. Just lovely.
Everybody seems to like to knock the Russian Soyuz. But the Soyuz Just Works. I hope the Russians do send the Soyuz to the moon. And I hope they do it before we do. Which shouldn't be hard given our track record over the last 30 years. We literally had space in the palms of our hands by 1969. And we pissed it away. Now the rest of the world has caught up in raw capability, if not outright finess. We're about to get our butts kicked out of space. Space was ours to loose and we've lost it big time.