In an open letter to Congress today, ex-astronaut and current NASA head honcho Charles F. Bolden Jr shared some choice words: Quit wasting money and start sending US astronauts to space aboard US spacecraft.
The letter, published at Wired, doesn't waste a moment getting to the point. "Congress, Don't Make Us Hitch Rides with Russia. Love, NASA" is the title. It details a big grievance that's emerged since America stopped launching spacecraft over four years ago: Currently, we pay Russia a crap ton of money to send Americans to the International Space Station. Bolden says that NASA had to recently pay the Russian Federal Space Agency $US490 million to send Americans to space aboard Russian spacecraft.
"It's as if we keep ordering expensive takeout because we haven't yet set up our own kitchen — only, in this case, the takeout meals are costing us hundreds of millions of dollars," he writes.
He urges Congress to invest more in President Obama's Commercial Crew plan, which called for NASA to work with American companies who'd build new commercial technologies for low-earth orbit, thus allowing NASA to focus on deep space exploration.
"On a per-seat basis, it costs approximately $US81 million to send an American astronaut to the Space Station on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft," Bolden writes. "By comparison, it will cost $US58 million per seat to send our astronauts to the Space Station on Boeing's and SpaceX's spacecrafts, once they are certified."
The double whammy here, of course, is that in addition to NASA needing to spend its money in unsustainable ways, the agency is famously underfunded. According to reports in 2011, the government spent less money on NASA than it did on air conditioning for the military. Looking ahead, manned missions to Mars will be outrageously expensive, closing in on $US100 billion, reports say. Bolden says NASA just wound up sending the same $US1 billion to Russia that it needs right here in the United States.
Bolden evokes recent NASA home runs, like Curiosity and New Horizons, to remind Congress what the space agency is capable of. When you consider NASA's influence and success, Bolden says, the least the US can do is send its own people to space.
Read the full letter here.