NASA Extends Space Travel Agreement with Russians
With the space shuttle fleet scheduled for
mothballing in 2010, NASA has extended its deal with the Russian Federal Space
Agency to ferry American astronauts and cargo to the International Space
Station through 2013.
The $306 million contract extension covers comprehensive Soyuz spacecraft support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, crew rescue and landing of a long-duration mission for six individual station crew members. Space station crew members will launch on four Russian Soyuz vehicles: two in spring 2012 and two in fall 2012. Their landings are scheduled for fall 2012 and spring 2013, respectively.
Under the contract modification, the Soyuz flights will carry limited cargo to and from the station and dispose of trash. The cargo allowed per person is approximately 110 pounds launched to the station, approximately 37 pounds returned to Earth, and trash disposal of approximately 66 pounds.
Although NASA has spent almost $7 billion on plans to be back on the moon by 2020, President Obama May 7 ordered a complete review of NASA's operations and direction, including possibly scrapping the proposed lunar space station. Former President Bush ordered the moon program in the aftermath of the 2003 space shuttle Columbia accident.
Others have questioned whether the United States can have a new manned spacecraft ready by 2015. NASA is proposing to fill the five-year gap by paying the Russians $1.2 billion to service the International Space Station during the hiatus. NASA claims funds freed by the shuttle fleet's retirement will allow the agency to support development of systems to deliver people and cargo to the ISS and the moon and explore other destinations.
"While I hope and expect that the Human Space Flight Review that is going to be conducted ... will help clarify what is needed to keep that important initiative on track, I think the basic situation is already clear," House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon said May 19. "Either the nation is going to have to give NASA enough funding to meet the dual challenges of carrying out its current and planned missions and of revitalizing the agency's human and physical capital ... or the nation is going to have to agree on what it wants NASA to cut."
Obama has proposed spending $18.69 billion on NASA in 2010, an increase of $903.6 million (5 percent) over funding provided in Bush's last NASA budget. Obama's NASA budget fully funds the remaining shuttle flights and continues funding programs for climate change research, including airborne sensors, computer models and analysis. The budget also continues NASA funding for aeronautical research.
"[Fiscal year 2010] will be a critical year for the agency as it completes the assembly of the ISS, begins the transition away from the Space Shuttle program and continues development of the follow-on human space transportation system that will return Americans to the moon and support other missions beyond low Earth orbit," Gordon said.
Future funding will be largely shaped by Obama's team review of NASA.