6 Jan 2006 USA: NASA to pay Russia for Soyuz Rocket Trips
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Jan 5 (Reuters) – The United States, which beat Moscow in a race to the Moon during the Cold War, will pay Russia $21.8 million per astronaut for a lift aboard a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station, the US space agency NASA said on Thursday.
The fare is slightly more than the world's first "space tourists" forked out for a ride into space with the Russian craft.
With its shuttle fleet grounded and no other vehicles available to serve as space station rescue boats, NASA had no choice but to pay Russia for transportation or abandon the half-built orbital outpost.
Congress last year lifted a weapons proliferation ban so NASA could buy Russian space services. The ban was enacted after concerns that Russian technology was helping Iran develop its nuclear program.
NASA and Russia still have to work out a long-term agreement for Soyuz flights, said NASA spokeswoman Melissa Matthews, but the Russians have agreed to a fee of $21.8 million per astronaut through 2011.
NASA will make an initial payment of $43.8 million for the current space station commander, U.S. astronaut Bill McArthur, to fly home in March, as well as for the launch and landing of astronaut Jeffrey Williams, who was officially named on Thursday as a member of the next space station crew.
The fee also covers use of a Soyuz capsule for an emergency escape ship and for training of a NASA astronaut who will replace Williams in September, Matthews said.
Since the Feb. 1, 2003, accident that destroyed the shuttle Columbia, when NASA's fleet of space shuttles was grounded for upgrades, the space station has been short one crew member to save on supplies.
NASA had hoped to resume regular flights to the outpost last year, but the July launch of the space shuttle Discovery showed that more repairs were needed. NASA hopes to fix that problem in time for another shuttle flight in May.
The agency plans to fly European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter to the space station aboard that shuttle mission to join Williams and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov as its 13th resident crew.
The agreement with Russia will keep one seat aboard the Soyuz available for a tourist or paying researcher. So far, three businessmen – Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth and Greg Olsen – have paid a reported $20 million apiece for roundtrip travel to the space station.