In a sad turn of events, NASA has continued renting seats off Russian Soyuz rockets, and recent Congress budget cuts have forced NASA to extend its contract with Russia. Let’s rephrase that: the space program of the United States — the first guys on the moon — is now piggybacking rides on Russian Soyuz rockets.
NATIONAL PRIDE FALLS TO THE WAYSIDE AS NASA CONTINUES TO RELY ON RUSSIAN SOYUZ ROCKETS
It’s no secret that Congress has cut NASA’s budget for years. Back in 2010, NASA had a budget of $19.1 billion, and in 2011 the budget was cut to $17.86 billion, a drop of $1.26 billion in just one year.
The recent funding authorization bill that Congress put together slashes NASA’s budget another $300 million. In 2015, that number sits at $18 billion, but it’s projected to drop back down to $17.6 billion next year.
What does this mean for NASA? It means that the company will need to continue renting seats aboard Russian Soyuz rockets until US commercial aerospace companies and NASA can find a way to work around NASA’s limited budget. Unfortunately, for NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX, these cuts further delay a commercial alternative.
CONGRESS’ UNDER-FUNDING NASA TO BLAME
“Unfortunately, for five years now, the Congress … has not adequately funded the commercial crew program to return human spaceflight launches to American soil this year as planned,” Bolden wrote in the letter.
The contract agreement the United States made with Russia had to be extended into 2017, which will cost American taxpayers more than $80 million per seat — totaling $490 million when all is said and done. That’s money that could be reinvested into the American economy.
“This has resulted in continued sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as our crew transport vehicle for American and international partner crews,” wrote Bolden.
In 2011, NASA retired its own space shuttles and partnered with two commercial companies, SpaceX and Boeing, to develop new spacecraft that could transport astronauts from Earth to the International Space Station (ISS). Five years later, the three companies are still struggling to develop a solution due to continuous resistance from Congress.
Upon hearing this stonewalling news, many scientists and politicians suspect that only an international incident involving American crew aboard Russian spacecraft will shift Congress’ mind and begin to support American industry rather than relying on Russia and Russian Soyuz rockets.
Lawmakers are looking to grant NASA between 70 and 80 percent of the funds NASA needs in order to fulfill its end of the agreement between SpaceX and Boeing (around $1.2 billion). But until more money can be attributed for American space flight the project, NASA will continue to be grounded.