On May 30, 2020, the United States has successfully launched their "Launch America" project after nine long years, aiming to launch American astronauts to space without relying on the Russian space agency using their Soyuz rockets.
That launch signifies the start of an era where American astronauts will be sent to space through American private spacecraft. But why is the American space agency spending $90 million to send one of its astronauts to the International Space Station onboard a Russian rocket?
The Last American Astronaut on a Russian Rocket
Despite the historic event last May, thanks to SpaceX, who sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is still set this week to go to the ISS from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard the Soyuz rocket of Russia.
According to Jamie Carter of Forbes, Rubins' journey to the ISS is the final part of the existing agreement between the US and the Russian space agency to spend American astronauts to space via the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Astronaut Rubins is scheduled to lift-off on October 14 at 1:45 EDT (10:45 AM in Kazakhstan time) alongside cosmonauts Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos on the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft, and they are set to stay at ISS for six months to complete their mission, according to NASA.
This will be the last time NASA will be paying the Russian space agency $90 million for a seat in the Soyuz rocket with the commercial crew capability that has become operational this year.
"As the U.S. commercial crew capability becomes operational, astronauts and cosmonauts should resume flying together on our respective spacecraft, consistent with past practice," according to a statement from NASA.
According to Forbes, NASA has paid $90,252,905.69 to procure one seat in the Russian rocket, including the costs for training, preparation for launch, flight operations, landing, and crew rescue services.
On the other hand, NASA said that cosmonauts might soon be flying with astronauts aboard the SpaceX spacecraft as the two countries' space agencies are already in talks to make sure that at least one US and Russian crew member is present in the ISS at any one time.
It would be practical and beneficial to both countries to fly in mixed crews as it would increase the probability that crew members from the two countries are present in the space station to conduct critical experiments; plus, it is much safer as well.
Although NASA will no longer be paying millions of dollars to Russia for a seat on their rocket, it is expected that in the future, cosmonauts will be onboard SpaceX missions and NASA astronauts on Soyuz missions as well.
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Astronaut Kate Rubins was assigned a six-month mission as a flight engineer on ISS and a member of the Expedition 63/64 crew. She will take part in a myriad of space experiments that includes testing NASA's new space toilet, which was delivered earlier this month to the space station on a cargo resupply mission.
The Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) is designed with a Urine Transfer System that is smaller than the previous toilet and furthers waste management and storage. UWMS is intended for more crew members and future missions to the Moon and Mars.
NASA said that the astronauts would get to use the new space toilet to test it out.
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