Head of NASA: Congress, Stop Paying Russia to Send Americans to Space

Illustration for article titled Head of NASA: Congress, Stop Paying Russia to Send Americans to Space

In an open letter to Congress today, ex-astronaut and current NASA head honcho Charles F. Bolden Jr. shared some choice words: Quit wasting money, and start sending US astronauts to space aboard US spacecraft.

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The letter, published at Wired, doesn’t waste a moment getting to the point. “Congress, Don’t Make Us Hitch Rides with Russia. Love, NASA” is the title. It details a big grievance that’s emerged since America stopped launching spacecraft over four years ago: Currently, we pay Russia a crap ton of money to send Americans to the International Space Station. Bolden says that NASA had to recently pay the Russian Federal Space Agency $490 million to send Americans to space aboard Russian spacecraft.

“It’s as if we keep ordering expensive takeout because we haven’t yet set up our own kitchen—only, in this case, the takeout meals are costing us hundreds of millions of dollars,” he writes.

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He urges Congress to invest more in President Obama’s Commercial Crew plan, which called for NASA to work with American companies who’d build new commercial technologies for low-earth orbit, thus allowing NASA to focus on deep space exploration.

“On a per-seat basis, it costs approximately $81 million to send an American astronaut to the Space Station on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft,” Bolden writes. “By comparison, it will cost $58 million per seat to send our astronauts to the Space Station on Boeing’s and SpaceX’s spacecrafts, once they are certified.”

The double whammy here, of course, is that in addition to NASA needing to spend its money in unsustainable ways, the agency is famously underfunded. According to reports in 2011, the government spent less money on NASA than it did on air conditioning for the military. Looking ahead, manned missions to Mars will be outrageously expensive, closing in on $100 billion, reports say. Bolden says NASA just wound up sending the same $1 billion to Russia that it needs right here in the United States.

Bolden evokes recent NASA home runs, like Curiosity and New Horizons, to remind Congress what the space agency is capable of. When you consider NASA’s influence and success, Bolden says, the least the US can do is send its own people to space.

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Read the full letter here.

[Wired]

Image via Shutterstock

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DISCUSSION

First off, this letter seems to be the first one to suggest anywhere that NASA is trying to end their manned space program and focus only on probes. Thats a big deal! This is also the first time I have read an argument from the head of NASA which encourages congress to spend more money on an out-of-house manned flight program, where has NASA been? As this story says, we are now four years into NASA hitching rides from the Russians, four fucking years in, we knew years ago the shuttle was ending and we had no home grown plan to get up to ISS, and NOW the head of NASA comes forward with a request for more money specifically for an outside manned flight program?
Lets be clear, the head of NASA is asking for more money from congress to spend on a non NASA manned space flight program, I know money flows through NASA but the NASA manned program has nothing to do with this outside program. This money is not money for NASA, its money for a dramatically scaled down replacement to the NASA manned flight program. I see NASA on a chopping block and this guy and his buddy Obama with an axe in their hand swinging it towards that block. The Republicans share in this debacle, they could have screamed to high heaven, but, as usual from them, nothing. Now all the arguments regarding NASA are frozen, this nations official policy is to kill all manned flight programs within NASA and help contractors put something together with some newly formed privet company because its just that easy. Good luck with that.
The Welfare state wants more money so kiss the manned space program goodbye forever, if they were kind they would at least have said thanks for the $10 billion in new cash flow per year, but nope.
Looking beyond this mess, the ISS was a mistake and before that the shuttle was a mistake. If we could have done all this for a tenth of their eventual cost, sure why not, but everyone knew they would be vastly more expensive and provide no unique capability we couldn’t get some other way, and more cheaply. Manned space exploration is the essence of human exploration, most efforts and money should be spent on that. The original goal of the space shuttle was to facilitate that vision with cheep and easy access to space, it was a catastrophe of spending and highly limited in its payload configurations. Cheep and easy are the right goals but NASA stumbled with the shuttle and then they followed it up with the ISS, WTF. They ignored the failure of the shuttle and went right on to the ISS, if we had STS v2.0, a larger version of the Boeing 37b we would have a capability like no other, the foundation for a Mars platform, we got the ISS and no independent way of getting to it.
I recognize the hugh value of the probes and the Hubble, keep them funded but all that wasted money on the shuttle and now ISS, we need better ideas and better plans. This reminds me of a saying they had for NASA during the 1960’s, NASA was a PR agency with a space program attached to it, in other words there has always been a vision problem. I honestly don’t think NASA is up to doing their mission, they have long ago been absorbed into the federal bureaucracy and have largely ended that “vision thing”, today the manned program, tomorrow JPL and all the probes, get in line for your hand out.