NASA has signed a new deal that will keep American astronauts flying on Russian spacecraft through early 2017 at a cost of $70.7 million per seat — about $8 million more per astronaut than the previous going rate.
The $424 million deal, which was announced today (April 30), is good for six seats aboard Russia's Soyuz space capsules. Under the agreement, Soyuz will now ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station through 2016, with return and rescue services extending until June 2017. The previous contract provided Soyuz flights for NASA astronauts through 2015, at a cost of roughly $62.7 million per seat.
NASA has been dependent on the Soyuz since the retirement of its space shuttle fleet in July 2011. The agency is currently encouraging American private spaceflight firms to develop their own astronaut taxis under its Commercial Crew Program. [The Top 10 Private Spaceships]
NASA had hoped that at least one homegrown crew-carrying spaceship would be up and running by 2015, but Congress' failure to fully fund Commercial Crew has made that impossible, agency chief Charles Bolden said. NASA officials are now targeting 2017 for the first American astronauts to fly on commercial spacecraft.