NASA Pays $70 Million a Seat to Blast Astronauts to Space on Russian Spacecraft
Blasting off into space has just gotten a little bit pricier--and by "a little bit," we mean a lot. NASA has just signed a new deal that will keep American astronauts flying on Russian spacecraft through 2017, but at a cost of $70.7 million per seat. Talk about inflation.
The new price is actually about $8 million more per astronaut than the previous going rate, according to Space.com. Yet NASA has little choice but to accept the $424 million deal, which is good for six seats aboard Russia's Soyuz space capsules. The American space agency has been dependent on the Soyuz since the retirement of its space shuttle fleet in July 2011; this means that they either accept the deal, or there won't be any more American astronauts in space.
That's not to say that the United States isn't working on their own fleet of space shuttles to ferry people into orbit. Currently, NASA is encouraging private spaceflight firms to develop their own astronaut taxis under its Commercial Crew program. In fact, Virgin Galactic has recently entered the space race being held among private companies when its SpaceShipTwo rocket blasted off on Monday in a test to determine its capabilities. The spacecraft itself actually exceeded the speed of sound, and the company's backer, British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, has announced that he and his family will be among the first to take a ride into space.
Despite efforts from private companies, though, NASA is in a bind. It had hoped that at least one homegrown crew-carrying spaceship would be up and running by 2015, but Congress' failure to fully fund Commercial Crew has made that impossible, according to Space.com. Now, NASA is targeting 2017 for the first American astronauts to fly on a commercial spacecraft.
For now, NASA is on the hook when it comes to ferrying astronauts into space with a Russian spacecraft. That sai, it's almost guaranteed that the Russians aren't complaining.