NASA Rents Rides on Soyuz

The Russian Space Agency has signed a multi-million dollar contract with NASA to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station when the old Space Shuttle is retired. Jim Bell reports.

NASA has seen this coming for a long time. The old space shuttle orbiters will be retired next year, after only eight more flights. Their replacement won't be ready till 2014.  NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries says this means NASA will rent seats on a Russian Soyuz vehicle to get crews to and from the International Space Station. 

"That includes astronauts from NASA and Canada, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency, under barter agreements with them, for 2012 and 2013." 

The contract covers two launches in 2012 to get the crews to the station, and two more in 2013 to bring them home, for a total cost of $306 million dollars. Humphries says NASA hopes to have two next generation vehicles ready to replace the shuttles by 2014.

"Orion is the crew capsule, and that's going to be carrying astronauts to and from the space station, to and from the moon, and potentially other destinations in the future. It has a companion rocket which is a big cargo rocket known as the Aries Five Rocket, and that will be the large lifting capability, and it's going to be able to lift big loads into space."

Humphries says NASA hopes to have the private sector take over some of this work. Two companies have been granted contracts to develop and build a cargo ship to carry on the work of building the space station, but he says neither company has demonstrated that it's capable of building one.

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.

image of the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft approaches the International Space Station