|By Mark Carreau|
|HOUSTON — NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency on March 14 signed a two-year, $753 million agreement extending the purchase of Soyuz spacecraft for the transportation of U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian astronauts to the International Space Station through June 2016.
The agreement includes transportation for 12 astronauts, at a per-passenger cost of $62.75 million, up from the $55.8 million it will pay per seat for six trips in 2013-14. Under the current agreement, NASA is paying $51 million per astronaut for transportation on the venerable three-seat capsule.
NASA turned to the Russians for regular launches to the station following the 2003 Columbia tragedy. George W. Bush administration policy called for the shuttle’s approaching retirement. President Obama has called on NASA to foster a U.S. commercial space transportation industry as part of a strategy to grow the U.S. economy and stimulate job creation.
The strength of congressional commitment to the strategy remains in doubt, as does the date that commercial space taxis could begin launching astronauts.
The latest agreement includes two launches in 2014 and 2015 as well as the return of one six-month mission in mid-2016.
In addition to crew training and use of the Soyuz spacecraft as station lifeboats, the new agreement includes some cargo services, 110 lb. per seat on ascent, 37 lb. on descent.
Soyuz landing photo: NASA