By Charles Bolden
NASA is committed to launching our astronauts on American spacecraft from U.S. soil as soon as possible. Since the end of our Space Shuttle Program in 2011, NASA has relied on the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) for the launch and safe return of astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard its Soyuz spacecraft. While our Russian counterparts have been good partners, it is unacceptable that we don’t currently have an American capability to launch our own astronauts.
That’s why the Obama Administration has placed such a high priority on correcting this situation. Three years ago, the Administration put forward a public-private partnership plan, the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), to ensure that American companies would be launching our astronauts from U.S. soil by 2015. It’s a plan that supports the U.S. human spaceflight program, boosts our economy, and helps create good-paying American jobs. If NASA had received the President’s requested funding for this plan, we would not have been forced to recently sign a new contract with Roscosmos for Soyuz transportation flights.
Because the funding for the President’s plan has been significantly reduced, we now won’t be able to support American launches until 2017. Even this delayed availability will be in question if Congress does not fully support the President’s fiscal year 2014 request for our Commercial Crew Program, forcing us once again to extend our contract with the Russians. Further delays in our Commercial Crew Program and its impact on our human spaceflight program are unacceptable. That’s why we need the full $821 million the President has requested in next year’s budget to keep us on track to meet our 2017 deadline and bring these launches back to the United States.
I am pleased with the progress our commercial crew providers are making. We now have an American company resupplying cargo to the ISS — launching from U.S. soil — and another company on track to join in this competition. I’m confident that our ambitious plan for U.S. crew transportation, if fully funded, will allow U.S. commercial companies to launch our astronauts in just a few short years.
I’m bullish on the American aerospace industry, and I’m committed to gaining the support of the U.S. Congress to fully fund our investments in these companies and bring untold benefits to our economy.
For more information about NASA’s partnerships with industry to launch cargo and astronauts to space, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/commercial
This post originally appeared on Gen. Bolden’s blog on the NASA website.