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Russia to stop ferrying US astronauts to ISS from April 2019

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Russia’s contract with NASA to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) will expire in April next year, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov has said, reported Russia Today.

Under the current contract, American astronauts avail of seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft in order to reach the ISS and return home. The US lost its capacity for manned space missions after the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, and is about to finalize a replacement in the form of a manned SpaceX Dragon capsule.

The cost of the ISS ferry service has varied over the years, with NASA paying about $81 million per seat in 2018, up from the cheapest price of $21.8 million in 2007 and 2008.

Reporting on the state of the Russian space industry, Yury Borisov, who is responsible for overseeing military and space matters in the Russian cabinet, said that the landing of a Soyuz-MS spaceship in April next year “will finalize the fulfillment of our obligation under a contract with NASA.”

However, Russia may continue ferrying US astronauts to orbit if a new deal is struck, Sergey Krikalev, executive director of manned space programs at Roscosmos, told TASS.

“This is a working issue. The current contract ends, but it doesn’t mean that we’ll stop delivering American astronauts on the ISS. There’ll be other contracts. No tough measures are implemented,” he said.

Discussions on the next contract are already underway between Roscosmos and NASA, but “there have been no specific decisions yet,” Krikalev added.

The discontinuation of the Space Shuttle program seemed like a minor inconvenience in 2011, when the US and Russia were on relatively good terms. Today, however – amid a bitter political stand-off between the two nations – the fact that the US has to rely on Russia in some aspects of its space exploration is considered humiliating by some people in America.

The late Senator John McCain was among the most vocal critics of the situation, in which the US pays Russia millions of dollars each year in return for space engines and rides to the ISS. Vice-President Mike Pence last week pledged that the US will “very soon” be able to take people into space without Russia’s help and will return to the moon by 2024.

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