NASA has modified its contract with the Russian government in order to extend the period in which Russian craft will bring astronauts to the International Space Station.
The change will cost $490 million, and, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, comes about because of a lack of Congressional funding.
“Unfortunately, for five years now, the Congress, while incrementally increasing annual funding, has not adequately funded the Commercial Crew Program to return human spaceflight launches to American soil this year as planned,” Bolden said in a letter sent to Congress on Aug. 5 and acquired by the Houston Chronicle.
In a way, this is an ultimatum from Bolden: members of Congress who do not push for more funding for NASA will effectively be recommending that the United States spend money on the Russian Federal Space Agency instead.
The contract with the Russian space agency now extends through 2019. Meanwhile, under-funding has pushed the American commercial crew program from 2015 to 2017. If Congress does not fully fund President Barack Obama’s $1.24 billion budget request for the FY 2016 space program, it could be pushed again to 2018.
This leaves Boeing and SpaceX waiting to find out whether they will run out of funding and be forced to suspend all of their commercial crew-related work, which Bolden says could potentially happen in spring or summer of 2016 if NASA cannot fund several planned milestones.
This year, NASA received between $250 and $300 million less than the president requested for commercial crew.
“The safe, reliable, and cost-effective solutions being developed here at home will allow for more astronauts to conduct research aboard the space station, enable new jobs, and ensure U.S. leadership in spaceflight this century,” Bolden said. “The fastest path to bringing these new systems online, launching from America, and ending our sole reliance on Russia is fully funding NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in FY 2016.”
Eric Berger of the Houston Chronicle said that Congressional sources told him that they do not believe NASA when the agency says anything less than full funding would delay the launch of an American commercial crew craft.
Russia’s Soyuz-TM spacecrafts are currently used to bring NASA astronauts to the space station. NASA has been pushing for a reusable, crewed American-built spacecraft to take on the role of the Space Shuttles since 2009.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense