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Rocket Start at the Space Center in Baikonur (Foto: AFP/ Getty Images/Kirill Kudryavtsev)
Right now, all travelers have to depart from BaikonurImage: AFP/Getty Images/Kirill Kudryavtsev

US astronauts continue to fly Soyuz

fs/ms (dpa/AFP/rtr)
August 6, 2015

NASA and Roskosmos are continuing their joint flights to the ISS until 2017, according to an agreement both sides signed. After 2017 NASA aims to return to space on their own.

https://p.dw.com/p/1GB34

On Wednesday, the US space agency NASA announced it has extended an agreement with Russia's Roskosmos to provide transport for American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) through 2017.

In a letter addressed to the US Congress, NASA chief administrator Charles Bolton explained that NASA was forced to renew its contract with the Russians, rather than send its own crafts up to the ISS, due to budget contraints.

The two-year contract comes a pricetag of $490 million (more than €450 million). This is a considerable price-hike: Roskosmos previously charged $71 million for one seat in their crafts. From now on a round-trip-ticket costs $82 million.

Not too happy about dependence

NASA experts and members of Congress have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the dependency of NASA on the Russians. NASA chief Bolden stressed repeatedly that the US needs to be capable of running its own space travel program.

"It is my sincere hope that we all agree that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on others to launch humans into space," Bolden wrote in his letter. "I urge Congress to provide the funds requested for our Commercial Crew Program this year, so we can prevent this situation in the future.

Advocates of American-operated space travel became even more vocal in 2014 when the US froze its collaborative research projects with Russian scientists after Russian annexed Crimea. The only exception to this sanction was that NASA would continued cooperating with Russians on the ISS without interruption.

American astronauts have been flying to the ISS with Russian Soyuz space ships since 2010 after NASA ended its Space Shuttle program in 2011 due to cost cutting measures. Since then, the US has followed a two-tiered approach to get back into space on its own.

However, NASA also recently gave contracts to the defense companies Boeing and Space-X to build new spaceships for the near-earth orbit, meaning the crafts would be able to reach the ISS.

Together with the European space agency ESA, NASA is developing a new space ship called Orion. ESA contributes the service module, including the life support systems.

Orion is designed to explore space beyond the earth orbit - for examples for missions to moon and beyond.

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