Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Soyuz Ride Now Costs $63 Million

Florida Today reports NASA has announced a new contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) that raises the cost to fly astronauts to the International Space Station to about $63 million per seat.

Using Soyuz to supplement and eventually replace Shuttle began with the Bush administration in January 2004. I've covered this before in an April 26, 2010 blog about how the Bush administration publicly announced in late January 2004 the Soyuz plan, and in a November 28, 2010 blog about then-NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe's testimony before the Senate Science Committee on January 28, 2004 detailing their planned "gap" in the ability of the U.S. to reach the ISS after retiring Shuttle.

The Bush administration intended to eventually replace Shuttle with what came to be known as the Constellation program. That program included the Ares I, which would take astronauts to low earth orbit and the ISS. But the U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee (commonly known as the Augustine Committee) concluded in late 2009 that Ares I wouldn't be ready until 2017 — two years after the ISS would have been decommissioned to pay for Constellation under the Bush plan, meaning Ares I had nowhere to go. That's why an August 2009 Government Accountability Office audit concluded that Constellation "lacked a sound business case."

After the release of the Augustine Committee report, the Obama administration proposed that Constellation be cancelled. The savings would be used to extend the ISS until at least 2020, and possibly to 2028. The money would also be used to expand the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program begun in 2005 during the Bush administration to include crew as well as cargo. After SpaceX orbited its Dragon capsule last December, founder Elon Musk said he thought his company would be ready to fly crew by 2013, although comments by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden suggest NASA might not be ready until about 2015.

Members of the Congressional space committees, who have been generally hostile to commercial human space flight, have proposed reducing the NASA COTS budget while funding a new government rocket program. That would only prolong the use of Russian Soyuz capsules by U.S. astronauts to reach the ISS.

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