In the face of drastic funding cuts by the US Congress to NASA’s commercial crew program (CCP) aimed at restoring America’s indigenous launch capability to fly our astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is being forced to spend another half a billion dollars for seats on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft instead of astronaut transport ships built by American workers in American manufacturing facilities.

The end effect of significantly slashing NASA’s Fiscal 2016 commercial crew budget request by both the US Senate and the US House is to tell NASA to ‘Buy Russian’ rather than to ‘Buy American.’

The $490 million of US taxpayer dollars will pay for six astronaut seats on the Soyuz manned capsule in 2018 and 2019 – that are now required due to uncertainty over whether the pair of new crewed transporters being built by Boeing and SpaceX for NASA will actually be available in 2017 as planned.

Furthermore the average cost per seat under the new contract with Russia rises to $81.7 million compared to about $76 million for the most recent contract, an increase of about 7 percent.

In response to the Congressional CCP budget cuts, NASA Administrator Bolden sent a letter notifying Congressional lawmakers about the agency’s new contract modifications with the Russian space agency about future crewed flights to the space station.

“I am writing to inform you that NASA, once again, has modified its current contract with the Russian government to meet America’s requirements for crew transportation services. Under this contract modification, the cost of these services to the U.S. taxpayers will be approximately $490 million,” Bolden wrote in an Aug. 5 letter to the leaders of the House and Senate committees responsible for deciding NASA’s funding.

The budget situation is completely inexplicable given the relentless pressure from Congress, led be Sen. John McCain, on the Department of Defense and US aerospace firm United Launch Alliance (ULA) to stop purchasing and using the Russian-made RD-180 engines for the 100% reliable Atlas V rocket by 2019 – as a way to punish Russian’s President Vladimir Putin and his allies.

Because on the other hand, those same congressional ‘leaders’ clearly have no hesitation whatsoever in putting money into Putin’s allies pockets via the NASA commercial crew account – at the expense of jobs for American workers and while simultaneously potentially endangering the ISS as a hedge against possible Russian launch failures. Multiple Russian and American rockets have suffered launch failures over the past year.

Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts by NASA Administrator Bolden in September 2014 worth $6.8 Billion to complete the development and manufacture of their privately developed CST-100 and Crew Dragon astronaut transporters under the agency’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program and NASA’s Launch America initiative.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (left) announces the winners of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program development effort to build America’s next human spaceships launching from Florida to the International Space Station. Speaking from Kennedy’s Press Site, Bolden announced the contract award to Boeing and SpaceX to complete the design of the CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Former astronaut Bob Cabana, center, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and former International Space Station Commander Mike Fincke also took part in the announcement. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The purpose of CCP is to end our “sole reliance” on the Russian Soyuz capsule and launch US astronauts on US rockets and spaceships from US soil by 2017.

With CCP we would continue to work cooperatively with the Russians to everyone’s benefit – but not be totally dependent on them.

Under NASA’s CCtCAP contract, the first orbital flights of the new ‘space taxis’ launching our astronauts to the International Space Station had been slated to blastoff in 2017. But that schedule was entirely dependent on NASA’s ability to pay both aerospace companies as they made progress on completing the contacted milestones absolutely critical to achieving flight status.

Bolden had already notified Congress in February that the new contract modification would become necessary if Congress failed to fully fund the CCP program to enable the 2017 flights.

Since the forced retirement of NASA’s trio of shuttle orbiters in 2011, all American and ISS partner astronauts have been forced to hitch a ride on the Soyuz for flights to the ISS and back.

“Our plans to return launches to American soil make fiscal sense,” Bolden said recently. “It currently costs $76 million per astronaut to fly on a Russian spacecraft. On an American-owned spacecraft, the average cost will be $58 million per astronaut.”

Instead, the Obama Administrations 2016 request for commercial crew (CCP) amounting to $1.244 Billion was dealt another blow, and slashed to only $900 million and $1.0 Billion by the Senate and House committees respectively.

Boeing and SpaceX are building private spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station in 2017. Credit: NASA

And this is just the latest in a lengthy string of cuts by Congress – which has not fully funded the Administration’s CCP funding requests, since its inception in 2010.

The budget significant budget slashes amounting to 50% or more by Congress, have already forced NASA to delay the first commercial crew flights of the private ‘space taxis’ from 2015 to 2017.

“Due to their continued reductions in the president’s funding requests for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program over the past several years, NASA was forced to extend its existing contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station. This contract modification is valued at about $490 million,” said NASA.

So the net effect of Congressional CCP cuts has been to prolong US sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz manned capsule at a cost to the US taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Indeed, given the crisis in Ukraine and recent Russian launch failures, one might think the Congress would eagerly embrace wanting to reduce our total dependence on the Russians for human spaceflight.

“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’s letter explains.

“This has resulted in continued sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as our crew transport vehicle for American and international partner crews to the ISS.”

“In 2010, I presented to Congress a plan to partner with American industry to return launches to the United States by 2015 if provided the requested level of funding.”

So if Congress had funded the commercial crew program, the US would have launched its first human crews on the CST-100 and crew Dragon to the ISS this year – 2015.

NASA has selected experienced astronauts Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams to work closely with The Boeing Company and SpaceX to develop their crew transportation systems and provide crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station. Credits: NASA

Bolden also repeated his request to work with the leaders of Congress in the best interests of our country.

“I am asking that we put past disagreements behind us and focus our collective efforts on support for American industry – the Boeing Corporation and SpaceX – to complete construction and certification of their crew vehicles so that we can begin launching our crews from the Space Coast of Florida in 2017.”

Currently, both Boeing and SpaceX are on track to meet the 2017 objective – but only if the CCP funds are restored.

Otherwise the contracts will have to be renegotiated and progress will be severely reduced – all at added cost. Another instance of pennywise and pound foolish.

“Our Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contractors are on track today to provide certified crew transportation systems in 2017,” says Bolden.

“Reductions from the FY 2016 request for Commercial Crew proposed in the House and Senate FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bills would result in NASA’s inability to fund several planned CCtCap milestones in FY 2016 and would likely result in funds running out for both contractors during the spring/summer of FY 2016.”

“If this occurs, the existing fixed-price CCtCap contracts may need to be renegotiated, likely resulting in further schedule slippage and increased cost.”

Overall, it’s just a terrible state of affairs for the future of US human spaceflight, as Congress once again places partisan politics ahead of the interests of the American people.

The fact is that the commercial crew space taxis from Boeing and SpaceX are the fastest, cheapest and most efficient pathway to get our astronaut crews to the Earth orbiting space station and back.

Common sense says we must restore our independent path to the ISS – safely and as quickly as possible.

SpaceX and Boeing are building the private crew Dragon and CST-100 spaceships to resume launching US astronauts from US soil aboard Falcon 9 and Atlas V rockets (similar to these) to the International Space Station in 2017 – depending on funding from Congress. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Ken Kremer

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

View Comments

  • Hi Ken,

    Yes, this is a very bad situation, for Russia as well as America.

    All eggs in one basket = potential for single point failure.

    This is never a prudent method of operation.

    Regards,
    Tony Barry

    • Indeed, only one launcher is used for human space flight today (and rarely a Chinese one too). And it is basically the same as the first of all launchers from the 1950's Sputnik! How many launchers have been developed since then? Several dozens. More than half a dozen launchers bigger than Soyuz are being used for non-HSF today. Isn't it strange that launchers in general are only developed but not used?

      If the next crewed Soyuz launch fails, as one actually did in 1983 (the crew was saved), and grounded then the space station maybe will be deorbited. There's a fun Wiki article about the 1983 failure, although the subject is not fun.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soyuz_7K-ST_No._16L

  • I travel to the USA frequently. I always bring up space exploration whenever possible. I am writing this to tell you that USAmericans find anything to do with science annoying and space science is particularly repugnant. I won't qualify that with "many" or "most" ...I know most who read this won't like to believe it. I am certainly not a qualified poll taker. Regardless, I am here to tell you that USAmericans can't even talk the talk, let alone walk it. Try it for yourself. Ask a friend to explain the seasons. Try to find a person who can draw the inner solar system.

    But everyone knows the inane arguments about Pluto's demotion.

    I do not intend to be rude. I do wish to pipe up and bluntly inform you that space science is not optional for you. You can not decide to give manned missions a miss. Of course UT readers already know this. I encourage you to make the case for space to your peers. Ask them to envision a world where the USA is second or third to communist red China or the coalescent Union of Russian Socialist States.

    Ah well, it probably is not important that Uncle Vlad gets another feather for his cap while riding roughshod over the Ukraine (and Russia!). As long as you can keep that SUV topped up with cheap gas. OK, that was rude. Get mad. I fart in your general direction! What does it take to wake a sleeping giant? you tell me Comrade. Is your memory that short?

    As self appointed representative of the free world I am instructing you, the people of a country that still radiates hope to millions of the oppressed, to get your house in order, pay your bills and find a way to restore your former vigor. Teach your children to be curious. To boldly explore...Nurture that flame...that sputtering flame in the darkness. We can't fight the monstrous spread of slavery that is aiming to engulf this world without a intellectually thriving USA. In your heart you know its true...you know what's coming at you.

    I close with this quote; it bears repeating even if you don't recognise the source:
    "NASA has been one of the most successful public investments in motivating students to do well and achieve all they can achieve. It's sad that we are turning the programme in a direction where it will reduce the amount of motivation and stimulation it provides to young people."

  • It's a damn travesty that this administration chooses to give themselves raises, yet defunds NASA to the point where we are forced to rely upon the Russians to launch our own astronauts into space. Doesn't anyone remember the National pride of being first to the moon? No, our stupid, self serving government would rather give away our hard earned money to themselves and to funding programs to help those who cross our borders illegally rather than fund a source of National pride that would bring thousands of jobs back to US citizens. I can hardly wait for the day when we can vote these scumbags out of office and replace them with people who might actually give a shit about returning jobs and pride to the USA.

    • Hey Rick, would there happen to be a place I could easily go to buy all of the goods you hawk? Like an Amazon marketplace or something...?

    • Do you even realize that those scumbags who like to slash NASA budgets are the exact same scumbags who always take a political position in opposition to established science (like climate change or even evolution) and rant about people crossing your borders illegally - that is, the current opposition?

      And, for that matter, that the politics of the current administration has managed vast improvements for American jobs after the harm done when the current opposition held the administration?

      No need to believe me, just go research these things for yourself, instead of just accepting TV talking points. You have the whole Internet to find out.

    • Rick, you're blaming the administration when it's really congress and especially the teaparty dummies who are denying funds to science. Please open your eyes.

    • Rick you are barking up the wrong tree, the republican controlled congress controlled the purse strings! they are the ones slashing budgets. you need to figure out what you want to say before you say it or you may look foolish....

  • I think these people are either stupid or corrupt and why Russia? ESA can do the same job and we don't have the dreaded Putin to put up with what is happening to the Red White and Blue.....the Russians are laughing at the West and rightly so.............

    • "ESA can do the same job.." - As far as I am aware, ESA does not have a manned spacecraft, nor a man-rated launch vehicle to use for its launch. ESA, like NASA, is relying on Russia to ferry its astronauts to and from the ISS.

    • Russian and American scientists worked together throughout the cold war. Many close friendships were developed. Those Russians aren't "laughing at the west". They are happy to be working with us.

      It's the John Mccains and Putins of the world that make the trouble, not the scientists.

  • Once again, I say, with respect to the relationship between Washington and Putin: It can't be too bad if we're all riding on the same boat?

  • Does anyone really think it was a good idea for NASA to go with contractors for the manned space program? I they had stuck with the original plan to replace the Space Shuttle, America might have been back in the manned space flight business by now.

    • Actually, under the Constellation program, the first manned test flight was supposed to be this year. Of course, as noted by both the GAO and the Augustine Commission, the Constellation program was underfunded from the very beginning, so it was going to achieve its modest goals (like putting humans in LEO) much later than originally planned, and it was never going to accomplish its major goal - returning humans to the Moon - at all.

      • Constellation hasn't changed much, has it? Only been renamed and delayed, maybe to a more realistic schedule. And NASA is not allowed to talk about the Moon since the president ordered them to focus on the very much harder ambition to send humans to an asteroid instead, which of course won't happen. That's why they talk about going to Mars instead, because the Moon is illegal and the asteroid idea is just embarrassing. But a Moon launcher and a Moon spacecraft are still being developed.

  • WHO are the congresspeople and/or senators who did this? Lets identify them and vote the idiots out of office!

    Third party anyone? We could call it the 'Common Sense' party and go from there... maybe to the moon!

Recent Posts

Neutrinos Have Played a Huge Role in the Evolution of the Universe

Neutrinos are a form of dark matter, and they play a role in the evolution…

27 mins ago

Will the Starship Make a 15 km Hop Test on Wednesday?

According to recent statements and preparations at Boca Chica, SpaceX could be attempting a high-altitude…

17 hours ago

In the Far Future, Stellar Flybys Will Completely Dismantle the Solar System

Consumption and disintegration. Next time you want to be the life of the party—if you're…

20 hours ago

Spiral-shaped Planetary Disks Should Be More Common. Giant Planets Might Be Disrupting Their Formation

Planetary system formation is a process that involves astounding and complex forces.  Humans have only…

22 hours ago

Satellites can see the pollution trails from individual ships

All hands have to be on deck if the world is going to tackle degradation,…

22 hours ago

The Arecibo Observatory Platform Has Collapsed

Early this morning, the 900-ton instrument platform suspended above the Arecibo Observatory collapsed and crashed…

23 hours ago