NASA paid Russia more than $70 million dollars to send a single astronaut up to the International Space Station (ISS), according to the U.S. space agency.
Russian spacecraft flew cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, astronaut Peggy Whitson of NASA and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA). Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, charged both France and the U.S. $71 million per astronaut sent to the ISS, and plans to raise the price to $81 million by 2018, according to a report that NASA’s Office of Inspector General.
These astronauts will join a pair of Russians already on the station, commanded by astronaut Shane Kimbrough of NASA.
Russia has repeatedly threatened to block America access to the $150 billion International Space Station in response to U.S. sanctions. The U.S. paid for 84 percent of the costs associated with building the ISS. The last American space shuttle launched five years ago in July, but NASA still can’t put men into space without Russian cooperation due to President Barack Obama’s cuts to the agency’s exploration and spaceflight capability.
Relations between Russia and the U.S. have worsened dramatically in recent years due to the annexation of Crimea, the quasi-conflict with Ukraine and the fact that Russia has killed more civilians in Syria than Islamic State.
NASA plans to return to Earth’s orbit are entirely dependent on private companies, some of which are scheduled to launch by the end of next year. Astronauts installed adapters that allowed commercial spacecraft to dock with the ISS in August and give NASA less expensive options to resupply the station.
SpaceX has already successfully resupplied the ISS seven times. One SpaceX resupply mission in June of 2015 resulted in an explosion and a total loss of the spacecraft. The private company Orbital Sciences is also under contract with the space agency to resupply the ISS, but has had failures. SpaceX and Russian company NPO Energomash are locked in a struggle to supply rocket engines to the U.S. military.
Whitson, Novitskiy and Pesquet are slated to return to Earth aboard another Russian spacecraft May 15.
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