Russia takes advantage of end of space shuttle programme
Russia is capitalising on the end of America's space shuttle programme to charge Nasa far more for transporting its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow 6:29PM GMT 18 Mar 2011
With the US shuttle programme due to formally end this summer, Nasa has had little choice but to agree to a £470.6 million two-year deal with Russia to deliver twelve astronauts to the ISS from 2014-2016.
The deal, which includes training, a return ticket and a rescue service if needed, means that Nasa is paying almost £40 million per astronaut for what the Russian media have dubbed the most expensive taxi ride in history.
Nasa is paying just over £30 million per astronaut now so the new deal represents a price hike of almost twenty five per cent and is the fourth price increase in just five years.
Charlie Bolden, the Nasa chief, said it would buy America breathing space to develop its own spacecraft to transport US astronauts to the ISS.
He said plans were in place "to ensure that American astronauts and the cargo they need are transported by American companies rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments."
In future, private US companies will design and build spacecraft to get astronauts to the ISS, while NASA will focus on the development of more ambitious projects.
"This new approach in getting our crews and cargo into orbit will create good jobs and expand opportunities for our American economy," Mr Bolden said. "If we are to win the future and out build our competitors, it is essential that we make this program a success."
Russia's own space programme, a shadow of its Soviet predecessor, needs all the money it can get as it prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's 1961 space flight next month.
Sergey Ivanov, Russia's powerful deputy prime minister, last month accused the Russian space agency of committing "childish" errors after a string of failed satellite launches. It had also failed to build enough spacecraft, he added.
Despite the high price tag, Russian experts believe the Kremlin could have got even more money from Nasa.
"We could have got more," said Andrei Ionin, a member of Russia's space academy. "But in the current situation, it is better not to spoil relations."