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NASA Buys Russian Lift Services To Replace Lost U.S. Space Capabilities

By | April 16, 2007

      The United States, the nation that invented manned moon missions, just inked a contract to buy basic Earth-to-orbit capabilities from its former foe, Russia, at a time when the United States won’t be able to visit space on its own.

      That new $719 million change to the current International Space Station transportation contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency in Moscow will cover crew and cargo transport services through 2011, NASA announced.

      Because NASA will retire the venerable space shuttle fleet in 2010, that means the United States in the final year or more of the contract will be dependent on Russia (or Japan, Europe or private firms) to taxi U.S. astronauts to the space station.

      NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has said this U.S. loss of the most basic space capability is “unseemly,” and disturbing. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 9, 2007, page 1.)

      That contract extension with Russia covers crew rotations for 15 crew members, six in 2009, six in 2010 and three in 2011, and delivery and removal of 5.6 metric tons of cargo. U.S. Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) are still planned to provide the bulk of cargo transportation needs from 2010 and beyond to the space station.

      With the modification, NASA also is purchasing the capability for the Russian Docking Cargo Module (DCM) to carry 1.4 metric tons of NASA cargo to the space station.

      That module is scheduled to fly in 2010.

      By adding the module, NASA will be able to fly outfitting hardware for the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module on the DCM, eliminating the need to fly a cargo carrier and some ballast on a shuttle flight.

      NASA is obligated to deliver the Russian outfitting hardware to the station under a 2006 addendum to the ISS Balance of Contributions Agreement between NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency.

      In addition, NASA is purchasing a flight opportunity to and from the space station that will meet an obligation to the International Partners. The flight will allow for an astronaut from the partners to spend approximately six months aboard the space station. That flight is planned for 2009.

      Work under the contract extension will be performed in Russia, Kazakhstan, on board the International Space Station, at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

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