Decades ago, the United States and the Soviet Union were in competition, battling for superiority in the space race and demonstrating scientific prowess, technological capabilities, and power. Now fodder for the history books, the space race bred myriad advancements through competition; today, in a time of budget cuts, the U.S. is paying Russia for help when it comes to human spaceflight.
NASA officials have signed a $753 million modification to its current International Space Station (ISS) contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency for crew transportation, rescue, and related services from 2014 through June 2016. The firm fixed price modification calls for Soyuz support, including all necessary training and preparation for launch, flight operations, landing, and crew rescue of long-duration missions for 12 individual space station crew members.
Interestingly, the Soyuz was originally built in the 1960s (in the heat of the space race) as part of the Soviet Manned Lunar Program (although its first mission was unmanned).
NASA engineers are working to develop an American-made commercial capability for crew transportation and rescue services to the station following this year’s retirement of the space shuttle fleet. The goal is to become less dependent, if at all reliant, on foreign support; to this end, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is stressing the importance of and calling for American-made alternatives.
“The president’s 2012 budget request boosts funding for our partnership with the commercial space industry and prioritizes our efforts to ensure that American astronauts and the cargo they need are transported by American companies rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments,” Bolden says. “This new approach in getting our crews and cargo into orbit will create good jobs and expand opportunities for our American economy. If we are to win the future and out build our competitors, it’s essential that we make this program a success.”
This geek hopes the agency puts their money where their mouth is, and invests as significantly (if not more so) in U.S.-based firms, jobs, and R&D.