A number of US senators express concern that the widening diplomatic rift between Washington and Moscow could derail the US space program or even cause Russia to abandon American astronauts in space.
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee told NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Thursday that they were worried about the space agency’s dependency on Russia.
Bolden tried to reassure lawmakers that the deteriorating relations with Russia have not harmed Americans’ ability to get astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
Since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, NASA has been entirely reliant on Russia to transport its astronauts to and from orbit, hitching rides on Russian craft to the tune of about $70 million per seat.
“We hope that things work out. If Russia were to cut ties with the US, what are our options?” asked Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the committee’s ranking Republican.
Bolden said that “the relationship between Roscosmos and NASA is solid,” referring to Russia’s space agency, but noted that, “today, we are dependent on the Russians.”
“If something were to happen that caused us to have to evacuate the [space station], the plan, the contingency plan, is we have two vehicles that are there, two Soyuz spacecraft. We would get the crews into the Soyuz spacecraft and we would come home,” he added.
“That is the escape right now. That is the emergency return vehicle. It is the nominal return vehicle. It is the only vehicle we have,” Bolden told the senators.
The Senate hearing came a day after the US Court of Federal Claims issued an injunction prohibiting United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, from buying Russian-made rocket engines used to send US Air Force satellites into space.
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