NASA: ‘Embarrassing’ reliance on Russia ends today with SpaceX Dragon launch – expert

NASA has worked closely with Russia to send crews to the International Space Station (ISS) since 2011 and the end of the Space Shuttle era. But the partnership has been branded an “embarrassment” by some pundits, considering America’s history of pioneering spaceflight technology. However, with the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon today (May 27) at 9.33pm BST (5.33pm EDT), NASA looks confident to return crewed spaceflight to US soil.

According to Dr Grzegorz Brona, former chief of the Polish Space Agency (POLSA), the Americans now have the upper hand over Russia.

He told the Polish Press Agency (PAP): “Many people have said the American dependence on the Russians to launch astronauts to space is quite frankly embarrassing.”

After the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011 NASA has paid Russia as much as £73million ($90million) per seat to put astronauts on its Soyuz rockets.

In a bid to cut back on the cost of crewed space flight, SpaceX and Boeing were tasked with developing a new generation of spacecraft capable of putting astronauts in orbit.


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While the US was pursuing new technology under its Commercial Crew programme, Dr Brona argued Russian technology has stagnated.

He said: “The Americans have used this time to develop quite significantly in technological terms, and have worked on a new generation of rockets and capsules.

“It happened with the participation of private companies that received contracts towards this goal.”

The expert went on to say the Russians have “slept through” the last nine years.

Russia launches all astronauts to the ISS on Soyuz rockets.

American dependence on the Russians to launch astronauts to space is quite frankly embarrassing

Dr Grzegorz Brona, University of Warsaw

The spacecraft, originally designed in the 1960s, has only suffered three failures to date.

The most recent incident occurred in October 2018, forcing the launch of Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin and NASA astronaut Nick Hague to abort.

Dr Brona said: “The Russians are still launching astronauts into space using capsules that were developed in the 60s of the 20th century.

“Although they are effective and safe, they significantly differ, for example, from the crewed Dragon capsule.”

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A big advantage of SpaceX’s Dragon over the Soyuz is that the spacecraft is significantly lighter.

The less a rocket weighs at launch, the more money space agencies can save.

Dr Brona said the Dragon also allows for a more comfortable ride, giving astronauts more space inside of the spacecraft, unlike the cramped Soyuz capsule.

But while NASA has pursued SpaceX and Boeing under the Commercial Crew contract, the space agency has also been busy developing its own Orion spacecraft to take astronauts to the Moon and back.

According to Dr Brona, all of the recent developments have left Russia on thin ice.

Without the funding secured by selling Soyuz seats, the expert suggested Russia’s infrastructure and development are at risk of deteriorating.

However, it remains to be seen whether today’s SpaceX launch will be a success.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly the spacecraft today.

Dr Brona said: “Time will show whether the crew Dragons will be safe spacecraft.

“It’s worth remembering, however, the cargo Dragons have been successfully resupplying the ISS for a few years now. And that is a good sign.”

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