2015 was supposed to be the year that America stopped writing Russia a check anywhere between 70 and 80 million dollars per seat for American astronauts to ride aboard their Soyuz rockets. NASA has been paying this amount ever since 2011, just before the end of the Space Shuttle program so if you calculate two seats per year for now 5 years at the low end of the scale is at least $700 million dollars of our tax dollars being outsourced.
Back at the beginning of the Obama administration, the president proposed that low Earth access will be handed over to private companies and NASA will go on to do more bold things by going farther into the solar system. While the President’s vision for NASA was lacking any real vision, the ideal of sending astronauts on American rockets via private space companies was a way that could drastically lower the cost to low-Earth orbit and the first mission was supposed to be at the end of 2015. Companies such as SpaceX, Boeing and Blue Origin, to just name a few, have emerged since the President presented America with his vision. The Republican-controlled house and those in the Senate drastically cut the funding needed to give these companies “seed money” to develop and mature their capsules and rockets. Spaceflightnow.com reports the shortfalls are as follows:
2009/2010 commercial crew was given $51 million
2011 budget request: $500 M, received $321 M
2012 requested: $850 M, received $397 M
2013 requested: $830 M, received $525 M
2014 requested: $821 M, received $696 M
2015 requested: $848 M, received $805 M (June 11, 2015)
Those cuts pushed back America’s ability to launch our own astronauts to the Space Station until December 2017, and if NASA/Commercial Crew doesn’t get the money it needs for 2016 it will push it back even farther.
I know it seems like a lot of money, but NASA’s budget takes a little less than 1/2 of 1 cent of our taxes, which is very little, and NASA is underfunded, but that’s a separate blog entry. Despite the severe cuts, we’ve seen some progress. Earlier in May we saw SpaceX do a pad abort test of it’s Dragon capsule, and at Launch Complex 41, a tower is being erected that will house a swing arm that astronauts will board an Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s Starliner capsule sitting on top. The former Space Shuttle Launch Pad 39A (where the first Space Shuttle mission launched in 1981 and the final mission launched in 2011), SpaceX has built a hangar where its Falcon rockets will be assembled and has upgraded the launch mount atop Pad 39A. American’s will board Falcon 9 rockets on this historic pad, while Launch Pad 39B will be for NASA’s Space Launch System mega rocket that will debut in November 2018.
It’s a shame that our political leaders in Washington have short changed American technology, and jobs. I have tried to think of the reason why it makes sense to keep paying Russia when our own rockets will reduce the cost to send astronauts to space. Space is an untapped frontier that could lead to another economic boom for America in ways that we can not even imagine right now. It’s time to stop starving America’s space program and let it flourish, this country needs something to be proud of right now because of all of the hateful speech and violence and fear ISIS. America needs this because as American’s we can say this is something our country is doing that shows our resolve and our thirst to explore.
Clark, Stephen. “Commercial crew spaceships face likely delays.” SpaceflightNow.com June 11, 2015