NASA Astronauts to Continue Flying on Soyuz Post Commercial Crew

NASA Astronauts to Continue Flying on Soyuz Post Commercial Crew

NASA astronauts will continue flying on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft even after U.S. commercial crew systems come on line and Russian cosmonauts will fly on the U.S. systems according to NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.  The point is to ensure that all crew members are cross-trained on the various systems.

Williams is getting ready to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 18 with two Russian crewmates, Alexei Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka.  During a pre-flight press conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center last week, he said it is “fair to say, to assume” that there “will be continue to be one U.S crew member on every Soyuz and one Russian cosmonaut on every U.S. commercial vehicle.” 

During his time on ISS, the first International Docking Adapter (IDA) for commercial crew vehicles is expected to be delivered via a SpaceX commercial cargo launch.  (The June 2015 SpaceX CRS-7 mission had the first IDA aboard, but the launch failed.  This is the second IDA, but, hopefully, the first to arrive at the ISS.)  Williams is scheduled to take part in a spacewalk to attach it to the ISS.  When talking about the enhanced capabilities that will enable, Williams noted that although today there is much discussion about U.S. reliance on Russia for taking crews to and from ISS, from an operational standpoint, the crews need to be trained on all the spacecraft that will be available to them.

NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz confirmed via email to that Williams’ statements are correct.  She stressed that the United States no longer will be “solely reliant” on Russia and it is important to have more than one system capable of taking crews back and forth.

When the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that governs the ISS international partnership was signed, NASA planned to operate the space shuttle throughout the ISS’s lifetime and agreed to be responsible for launching not only U.S astronauts, but those from Europe, Canada and Japan, as part of each nation’s contribution.   NASA still has that obligation even though the United States decided to terminate the space shuttle program.  NASA pays Russia for seats on the Soyuz spacecraft to take all those crew members to and from ISS.  The current price is about $75 million per seat.

Schierholz said that in the commercial crew era there will be no exchange of funds between the United States and Russia for crew transportation. 

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