Russian Monopoly on Manned Space Activities?

I am concerned that the Russians now have a monopoly on manned space activities with the end of NASA’s space shuttle program. The Russians have not been shy to take commercial advantage of this turn of events. They will charge U.S. astronauts $43.4 million for a seat on a Soyuz crew capsule for the remainder of this year, with the price rising to $63 million a seat by 2016.

At this time, NASA has committed to purchase 46 seats on upcoming Soyuz flights, and the agency is considering the purchase of even more seats. It is my understanding that NASA plans to have a new shuttle replacement on line by 2016, assuming there are no delays, and in April awarded contracts totaling $269.3 million to five different companies to design the new spacecraft.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation of Hawthorne, CA has made the greatest progress in this task. The company claims that it will be able to build a reusable spacecraft that will transport up to seven astronauts at a price of $20 million each, significantly less than what we will be paying the Russians. This would also be quite a savings over our own space shuttle, which in recent years cost about $1.5 billion per launch.

In the meantime, Space Exploration Technologies plans to begin transporting supplies to the space station next year under a $1.6 billion NASA contract. Doing so will require the cooperation of the Russians, which to date has not been forthcoming.

I will continue to follow the U.S. space program with interest. It seems to me that NASA is currently an agency in search of a mission, and there is no telling where that mission will eventually take our nation — or how long it will take to get there.

— Bob