NASA to shell out $490 mn for astronauts’ launch on Russian rocket

Washington, Aug 7 (IANS) Owing to the continued reduction in funding, NASA has been forced to extend its existing contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA will buy six additional seats on the Soyuz rocket for 2018 at $490 million, or $81.6 million per seat.

In a letter sent to US Congress this week, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that due to the continued reductions in the president’s funding requests for the agency’s Commercial Crew Programme over the past several years, the US space agency is forced to continue with its dependence on Russia.

Since 2011, NASA has relied on the Russian Soyuz rocket for getting US astronauts into space.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme is an attempt to get US astronauts back into space on American rockets.

“Since the decision to retire the Space Shuttle in 2004, NASA has been committed to developing a follow-on, low-Earth orbit transportation system and limiting our reliance on others to transport U.S. crew to the International Space Station (ISS),” Bolden said in the letter.

“Unfortunately, for five years now, the Congress, while incrementally increasing annual funding, has not adequately funded the Commercial Crew Program to return human spaceflight launches to American soil this year, as planned,” he added.

This has resulted in continued sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as our crew transport vehicle for American and international partner crews to the ISS.

“NASA, once again, has modified its current contract with the Russian government to meet America’s requirements for crew transportation services. Under this contract modification, the cost of these services to the US taxpayers will be approximately $490 million,” he wrote.

Bolden asked the Congress members to put past disagreements behind and focus collective efforts to support the US space industry pioneers – the Boeing Corporation and SpaceX – to complete construction and certification of their crew vehicles so that NASA can begin launching crews from the Space Coast of Florida in 2017.

“I urge Congress to provide the funds requested for our Commercial Crew Programme this year, so we can prevent this situation in the future,” Bolden said.

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