According to an Agence France-Presse report yesterday, Russia’s Deputy PM warned that new anti-Russia, anti-invasion sanctions amounted to the U.S. “exposing their astronauts on the ISS” — the International Space Station. Russia ferries American astronauts to and from the ISS, and in case of an emergency, a Russian capsule is the station’s escape pod. Russia provides these useful services in exchange for $65 million per astronaut. That price is about to go up: Starting in 2016, the U.S. will pay $424 million for six rides to space. Evidently that isn’t enough for senior Russian officials to refrain from threatening (if “threatening” is the right word) our men in space (two of them are up there now). American alternatives to the Russian ferry service are scheduled to begin flying in 2017. I proposed sanctioning Russia by taking our $424 million and spending it domestically, in an effort to push our return to manned spaceflight up a year, to 2016 — when the new ferry contract would begin. A week after the piece ran, NASA administrator Charles Bolden agreed that it was possible: “We could potentially accelerate [American manned flights] by a year if we’re given adequate funding.”
The funding in question is a $150 million increase from NASA’s last allowance, but $424 million would be better. Especially now that we’re “exposing” our astronauts on the ISS.