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13 May, 2020 04:06

NASA quietly buys additional Soyuz seat as SpaceX prepares for historic manned space flight

NASA quietly buys additional Soyuz seat as SpaceX prepares for historic manned space flight

NASA has inked a deal with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to allow a US astronaut to travel into space aboard a Soyuz rocket in the fall, even as SpaceX gears up for its first manned launch later this month.

“A contract was signed today on providing a seat for a US astronaut onboard a Soyuz MS manned spaceship to be launched to the ISS in the autumn of 2020,” Roscosmos told Tass on Tuesday.

Though the agency refused to disclose the sum Washington paid for the seat, calling it “a commercial secret,” NASA spokespeople told reporters the deal was valued at $90.25 million, which includes the cost of the flight, as well as training and pre-launch and post-landing services.

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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said earlier this month that the two countries were close to an agreement for the seat, saying it was to be signed “within days” and stressing that American astronauts should always have access to the International Space Station (ISS), where the Soyuz will head in autumn.

SpaceX – the private spacecraft firm founded by Elon Musk – meanwhile, is preparing for a historic manned mission to the ISS on May 27, which will see NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken ride the company’s Falcon 9 rocket into orbit, and then link up with the ISS aboard its Crew Dragon capsule. Depending on how well the gear performs, the duo will remain in space between one and four months, and will be replaced by a crew of four.

After suffering a series of delays, the upcoming launch will mark the first manned US space mission initiated from American soil since 2011, when NASA scrapped its shuttle program, forcing its astronauts to hitch rides aboard Russian craft to the tune of millions of dollars per seat.

At a recent briefing, NASA’s program manager for the ISS, Kirk Shireman, said that the decision to purchase additional Soyuz seats will depend on whether SpaceX can offer “repeatable” missions on the Crew Dragon, not merely one successful manned flight, adding “We’ll watch how things progress” before looking to buy another slot on a Russian rocket.

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