Tensions between the United States and Russia have increased in recent months — and now NASA is taking advantage of the chilly relationship to try and push its own agenda forward. NASA administrator Charles Bolden today published a lengthy blog post in which he calls out Congress for under-funding the space agency in its budget, thus making US space missions increasingly more reliant on Russia.
"Later today, NASA astronaut Steve Swanson will liftoff towards the International Space Station, not from the Space Coast of Florida or some other American spaceport, but from Kazakhstan on a Russian spacecraft," Bolden writes. "And unfortunately, the plan put forward by the Obama Administration to address this situation has been stymied by some in Congress." Bolden goes on to note that President Obama noticed that the retirement of the Space Shuttle meant the US was increasingly reliant on Russia, a situation that he found "unacceptable." Thus, he included $800 million in NASA's budget each year for the last five year to be devoted towards boosting the US aerospace industry.
However, due to reduced levels of funding, the US will continue to rely on Russian launches until 2017 instead of next year. "The choice moving forward is between fully funding the President's request to bring space launches back to American soil or continuing to send millions to the Russians," Bolden says in perhaps his strongest bit of rhetoric. "It's that simple."
Bolden also cites SpaceX and Orbital Sciences as two examples of the kind of US-grown aerospace companies that we need more of — and he says these sorts of companies can help save taxpayers money, as well. While he does admit at the end of his post that it's important for NASA to continue cooperative efforts with Russia for the good of the ISS, he closes by saying that "NASA is rightfully focused now more than ever on returning our astronauts to space aboard American rockets — launched from US soil — as soon as possible."