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Top NASA Official: Paying Russia To Ferry Astronauts Is Unwise

  • Mike Eckel

NASA administrator Charles Bolden

NASA administrator Charles Bolden

NASA’s top official is pleading with Congress for more money, saying paying Russia to shuttle U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station is a misguided investment that would be better spent in the United States.

In an unusual editorial published on August 28, Charles Bolden lamented the fact that Washington earlier this month was forced to sign a $490 million contract extension with Russia to continue ferrying U.S. astronauts to and from the orbiting station.

Congress has underfunded the White House’s Commercial Crew initiative by about $1 billion since 2010, money Bolden said was paid instead to the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

“It’s as if we keep ordering expensive takeout because we haven’t yet set up our own kitchen -- only, in this case, the takeout meals are costing us hundreds of millions of dollars,” Bolden wrote in the editorial published in Wired magazine.

“Space travel is complex, but this choice is simple,” he said. “Do we invest in ourselves -- in our businesses, our ingenuity, our people -- or do we choose instead to send our tax dollars to Russia?”

"What we do know for certain is that every dollar we invest in Moscow is a dollar we’re not investing in American businesses," he said.

Since mothballing the U.S. shuttle fleet in 2011, NASA has relied on Russia’s stalwart Soyuz capsules, launched from the steppes of Kazakhstan, to ferry astronauts and cargo to the space station.

As tensions with Moscow have worsened over the Ukraine crisis, some U.S. lawmakers have also criticized the amount of money Washington is paying Russia.

Meantime, NASA has explored greater use of upstart private companies building their own spacecraft. Last year, the agency signed a $6.8 billion deal with SpaceX and Boeing to develop a new generation of space shuttles.

Bolden said a private American shuttle program would be cheaper in the long run than paying Roscosmos. A trip for a U.S. astronaut to the space station aboard a Soyuz craft currently costs around $81 million.

Once Boeing’s and SpaceX’s spacecraft are fully tested and authorized, it will cost $58 million per seat to send Americans into space, he said.