Blaming budget cuts, the US space agency NASA signed a $424 million contract with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to ferry six American, European, Japanese or Canadian astronauts to the International Space Station through 2016.
Apparently space flight isn’t immune to outsourcing when countries or companies are looking to cut costs. The Roscosmos contract also includes provision to return and, if necessary, rescue astronauts brought to the ISS through 2017.
The decision means that US space companies SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada won’t be sending manned missions to space on NASA’s behest before 2017, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a blog post. The agency had originally planned to fund launches starting in 2015.
“It is unacceptable that we don’t currently have an American capability to launch our own astronauts,” Bolden wrote. Last December, the Space Agency signed $10 million contracts with each company to develop technology to send people to the space station.
While SpaceX is currently fulfilling a contract for twelve unmanned re-supply missions to the ISS using its robotic Dragon spacecraft, it is still working to modify the spacecraft and its procedures to carry crew members to the space station. Boeing and Sierra Nevada are further behind in the certification process, but all three were expected to enter open competition to ferry people in 2014.
That deadline has now been pushed off until 2016, assuming, of course, NASA gets the full amount of funding the agency is requesting for the commercial space program next year: $821 million. Last year, when NASA requested $800 million, it received about half. Which means the cost of the two-year delay is about the same amount of money that US lawmakers are spending on M-1 Abrams tanks that the Army’s senior generals do not want or need.