The American space program continues to suffer under its own poor planning, and today, RT reported a new hit against the program as the contract the US has with Russia is slated to end in April, 2019:
Under the current contract, American astronauts avail of seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft in order to reach the International Space Station (ISS) and return home. The US lost its capacity for manned space missions after the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, and is about to finalize a replacement in the form of a manned SpaceX Dragon capsule.
The cost of the ISS ferry service has varied over the years, with NASA paying about $81 million per seat in 2018, up from the cheapest price of $21.8 million in 2007 and 2008.
Reporting on the state of the Russian space industry on Friday, Yury Borisov, who is responsible for overseeing military and space matters in the Russian cabinet, said that the landing of a Soyuz-MS spaceship in April next year “will finalize the fulfillment of our obligation under a contract with NASA.”
The discontinuation of the Space Shuttle program seemed like a minor inconvenience in 2011, when the US and Russia were on relatively good terms. Today, however – amid a bitter political stand-off between the two nations – the fact that the US has to rely on Russia in some aspects of its space exploration is considered humiliating by some people in America.
The late Senator John McCain was among the most vocal critics of the situation, in which the US pays Russia millions of dollars each year in return for space engines and rides to the ISS. Vice-President Mike Pence last week pledged that the US will “very soon” be able to take people into space without Russia’s help and will return to the moon by 2024.
This issue is certainly a source of embarrassment for the United States, and it probably was behind the American Vice President’s August 23 announcement that the US would soon regain manned space travel capability and be back to the moon by 2024. This story, also covered by RT, had this to say:
The US will soon rid itself of its embarrassing and costly reliance on Russian space rockets, Vice President Pence … promised, painting an idyllic future where private enterprises will be taking Americans to the moon and beyond.
Regretting that US astronauts were “forced to hitch a ride to space” ever since NASA’s Space Shuttle program retired in 2011, Mike Pence promised to end America’s somewhat embarrassing reliance on Soyuz rockets. Noting that each seat onboard a Russian capsule costs about $82 million, the vice president proclaimed “those days are about to be over.”
“I’m going to make you a promise: Soon, and very soon, American astronauts will return to space on American rockets launched from American soil,” Pence said while he and NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine, visited the Johnson Space Center on Thursday.
NASA has been working for years with its commercial partners SpaceX and Boeing to develop crew transportation systems, CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon 2, both of which the US space agency rather optimistically hopes to certify and render ‘operational’ next year.
But saving costs of low orbit flights are just part of US cosmic ambitions in outer space. Recalling that Donald Trump already allocated “historic funding for NASA,” Pence promised the crowd of space enthusiasts that “America will lead mankind to the stars once again,” by building a Moon colony in 2024, all while ambitiously pioneering Mars.
“We’re working with the Congress to provide an unprecedented $500 million to move the Lunar Orbital Platform from proposal to production. We’re only a few short years away from launching the gateway’s first building blocks into space, turning science fiction into science fact,” Pence said.
The US second-in-command did not forget to stress that the US must also maintain its military ‘superiority’ in space to tackle a perceived threat from China and Russia.
“China is aggressively weaponizing space. Russia, too, is developing and testing new and dangerous weapons and technologies to counter America’s space capabilities,” Pence claimed, stressing that the administration is “committed to keep America ahead of our adversaries in this critical domain.”
However, Pence’s big plans for space will face a large logistical hurdle: the United States currently has no domestic rocket program that can send human crews into orbit.
America’s civilian space agency, NASA, discontinued its space shuttle program in 2011, leaving the Russian Soyuz as the only class of spaceships capable of delivering people to the International Space Station (ISS).
Even the private sector now looks to Russian technology. United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, relies on Russian rocket engines for their Atlas launchers. Moscow has threatened to embargo the delivery of these in retaliation against the newest US-imposed sanctions.