Maj. General and retired NASA astronaut Charles Bolden has scolded his country's Congress for the systematic underfunding of the US Commercial Crew space program.
“During this time we’ve sent $1 billion to Russia,” he added.
“Just recently, NASA was left with no other choice but to write a $490 million check to our Russian counterparts so that we can get our own astronauts to the Space Station,” he lamented.
This dilemma first arose in the summer of 2011, when NASA's aging fleet of space shuttles was retired; the 30-year program ended right after the final shuttle landed on Earth.
Since then, NASA has been dependent on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to ferry its astronauts to and from space.
“In addition to the considerable economic benefits of Commercial Crew, there is also a strong fiscal case to be made. On a per-seat basis, it costs approximately $81 million to send an American astronaut to the Space Station on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. By comparison, it will cost $58 million per seat to send our astronauts to the Space Station on Boeing’s and SpaceX’s spacecrafts, once they are certified,” Bolden explained.
NASA had hoped that at least one homegrown crew-carrying spaceship would be up and running by 2015, but Congress' failure to fully fund Commercial Crew has made that impossible.
NASA is also looking to the private sector to fill the space shuttle's shoes in terms of sending cargo into orbit.