While the Crimea crisis has been on the back burner for the last several days, the threat it has to worsen US-Russia relations has become an argument used by some to support funding for NASA’s commercial crew program to eliminate US reliance on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for transporting crews to and from the International Space Station.
“Congress faces a choice between making an essential and overdue investment in regaining U.S. access to space, or keeping Putin in the pilot’s seat — and paying through the nose cone for it,” argued the Orlando Sentinel in an editorial Wednesday. The paper claimed that Congress had not made restoring US human space launch capabilities a priority, based on cuts it made to previous years’ budget requests for the commercial crew program, and warned that additional cuts would jeopardize the current 2017 launch date. “This shouldn’t be a tough call, especially now,” the editorial concluded. “It’s time for lawmakers to open the throttle on the U.S. commercial space program.”
In an op-ed in The Huffington Post, former astronaut Clayton Anderson expresses skepticism about claims by NASA officials, including administrator Charles Bolden, that US-Russian space relations are unaffected by the current crisis. “While 14 years of apolitical U.S./Russian operations in space is noteworthy and calming, NASA can only speculate that ‘everything’s OK,'” he writes. “On one thing we can agree: The situation clearly illustrates the need for speeding up the ability of U.S. commercial companies to ferry our astronauts to and from the ISS.” Elsewhere in the essay, though, Anderson said “it’s going to be a while” before those companies will be ready for transporting crews to the ISS.
In comments Wednesday during a panel about “new space actors” at the Satellite 2014 conference in Washington, Richard DalBello of the Office of Science and Technology Policy did not make an explicit link between the current crisis and commercial crew, but did put in a pitch for fully funding the program in the 2015 budget. “On the issue of private innovation support for commercial space enterprise, we’ve seen clear bipartisan support for a long number of years,” he said. “I think what we need Congress to do this year is to fully fund the commercial crew program. Let’s get American astronauts flying back to the space station on American launch vehicles.”