Status Report

NASA Talking Points: The Urgency of NASA’s Need for Legislation to Continue to Purchase Soyuz Crew Vehicles From Russia

By SpaceRef Editor
September 12, 2008
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Courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel


  • NASA needs Congress to provide legislative extension allowing purchase of Russian Soyuz crew vehicles to support astronauts on the International Space Station by October 2008 or else NASA will have no choice but to de-crew all U.S. astronauts from the International Space Station in 2012.
    • Existing legislative authority allowing NASA to make payments to Russia for support of the International Space Station expires on December 31, 2011.
    • The Russian Federal Space Agency has communicated to NASA that a contract must be in place 36 months prior to launch, in order to begin procurement of long- lead items to produce the Soyuz vehicles for the U.S., which are in addition to their own spacecraft manufacturing needs.
    • Since Soyuz crew rotations for fall 2011 will return in spring 2012. NASA must have new legislative authority in place by fall of 2008, if we are to maintain a U.S. and international partner (Europe, Canada, and Japan) presence onboard the International Space Station after October 2011. The legislative authority would allow for contract payments to be made beyond 2012. NASA is not allowed to execute a contract without legislative authority to make payments.

NASA’s Proposed Legislative Amendment:

“P.L. 106-178, 50 USC 1701 note is amended in subsection 7(1)(B) by striking ‘January 1, 2012’ and inserting in lieu thereof ‘July 1, 2016′”.

  • If Congress does not extend NASA’s legislative exemption to allow the purchase of Russian Soyuz crew services, the result will be to damage the United States’ collaboration with our international partners on the International Space Station, effectively ceding control of this $50 Billion investment (cost through 2010) to Russia.
  • Denying extension of this legislative authority only hurts the United States space program and our partnership with Canada, Europe, and Japan- not the Russians.
  • NASA fully recognizes that reliance on Russia for astronaut crew transportation and rescue for those onboard the International Space Station is a very serious shortfall in a critical U.S. capability.
  • The International Space Station is a collaboration that is working. Each partner has provided concrete contributions in the form of laboratories, equipment, robotic manipulator arms, cargo and crew transportation, etc.
  • While there is significant concern regarding U.S. reliance upon and relationship with Russia because of its incursion into Georgia, Russia has been a good and valuable partner on the International Space Station, especially in the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in February 2003, during which they provided services to continue U.S. operations onboard the Space Station.
  • Continuing to fly the Space Shuttle past 2010 is not the answer to this situation. Even if the Shuttle continued to fly beyond 2010 the U.S. would still be reliant on Soyuz until NASA’s new Orion crew vehicle comes on-line.
    • Due to its design limitations, the Space Shuttle can visit the ISS for no more than about two weeks at a time, two to five times per year.
    • The Soyuz can both transport crew and serve as a rescue vehicle attached to the ISS for six-month increments. Under NASA’s present operational safety rules, crew rescue capabilities for astronauts onboard the Space Station are a necessity. Today, only the Russian Soyuz provides this capability.
    • There is also the matter of risk. NASA’s current best estimate of 1-in-80 for the loss-of-crew on a single Space Shuttle flight, with 10 additional flights (2 per year in 2011-2015) yields a 12 percent probability–or about 1 in 8–of losing another crew.
    • Continuing to fly the Shuttle past 2010 without Congressional authority to purchase Soyuz services would relegate the United States and our Canadian, European, and Japanese partners to brief visits to the Space Station, eliminate long-term utilization, would eliminate the need to purchase U.S. commercial resupply services, and exposes the Space Station to greater operational risks with only Russian cosmonauts onboard.
    • This bleak scenario only damages our relationship with our international partners, abrogating the United States long-standing, treaty-level commitments to provide crew transport and rescue for them, likely to result in an understandable reluctance by them to join us in future space missions.

  • NASA has looked at numerous options, including many creative concepts from industry before seeking this legislative amendment. Due to the short development time available, none of the options offers a viable replacement or alternative for the Russian Soyuz in the timeframe of concern. The Soyuz option is simply the only sure solution and, in any case, would be needed as a backup even if other options did mature. NASA needs this legislative amendment or else the U.S. has no choice but to de-crew all U.S. astronauts (and de-facto the Canadian, European and Japanese astronauts) from the International Space Station in 2011.
  • NASA needs this legislative extension by October 2008. The development and utilization of the International Space Station has been a cornerstone of U.S. space policy and international leadership since President Reagan first announced the program in 1984. We need the help of Congress to capitalize on our Nation’s $50 billion investment in space leadership.

SpaceRef staff editor.