Differing opinions on reducing dependence on Russia for ISS access

There's one thing that both NASA's leadership and key Congressional figures can agree on: none of them are particularly happy about having to rely on Russia for access to the ISS. They disagree, though, on the best way to eliminate that dependence. NASA on Monday issued a press release about a new deal with the Russian space agency Roskosmos for Soyuz seats to the ISS, with a mouthful of a title: "NASA Extends Crew Flight Contract With Russian Space Agency Administrator Bolden Repeats Call For American-Made Commercial Alternative". In the press release, NASA administrator Charles Bolden used the deal, which prices ISS access at a new high of $62.75 million a seat, as a reason why NASA needs to press ahead with commercial crew development. "This new approach in getting our crews and cargo into orbit will create good jobs and expand opportunities for our American economy," he said in the statement. "If we are to win the future and out build our competitors, it's essential that we make this program a success." Earlier Monday, though, The Hill published an op-ed by Congressman Ralph Hall (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where he argues that NASA should focus its energies-and funding-on building the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lifter and Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) spacecraft, fielding both by the 2016 deadline mandated in the 2010 authorization act. "Failure to do so will result in continued reliance on the Russians' Soyuz to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. This is unacceptable," Hall writes. "NASA should give highest priority to developing the SLS and MPCV programs that build on the tremendous investments that have already been made in the Constellation systems." Commercial providers, Hall continues, should focus on transporting cargo to the ISS. "Ultimately, perhaps they will demonstrate their capability also to safely transport astronauts," he states. "Space exploration, however, is too important to be placed at risk for failure, so we must continue to support a robust program at NASA, which has a record of success."

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