“View from the International Space Station of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft as the station’s robotic arm moves Dragon into place for attachment to the station. May 25, 2012.” Caption courtesy of SpaceX. Photo: NASA

 
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Sequestration Shovels Money to the Russians

By Howard Bloom | February 27, 2013

A widespread opinion is that the sequestration—the blunt whack of $85 billion from the national government’s budget–was, as UPI puts it, “a dumb idea when it was created and it’s a dumb idea now.” But the sequestration may be far dumber than most realize. To save money, this budget bash is about to gush over three quarters of a billion dollars from America’s space budget directly into the coffers of the Russians. Penny wise and billion dollar foolish.

How does this astonishingly self-defeating cash transfusion to Moscow work?

NASA has a little-known but crucial project called the Commercial Crew Program. In the days of the Space Shuttle it cost roughly $37,500 per pound to get an American astronaut into space. Let’s say that you are that astronaut. Adding in all the oxygen, food, water, and equipment it takes to keep you alive, that’s close to $82.5 million to get you into orbit. Which is the price of flying the entire population of Pittsburgh to LA and back with tickets from cheapoair.com. But if America can get that cost down, it can make space as accessible as, well, airline trips from Pittsburgh to LA.

This is where the Commercial Crew Program comes in. In the Program, three private companies are competing to deliver US astronauts to the International Space Station. Those companies are Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Space Exploration Technologies (better known as Space X). All are under contract to meet performance milestones on a timetable that would deliver US astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017 or sooner.

And so far, things look promising. SpaceX has already built the rockets it takes to get to orbit and has put them into regular commercial use. What’s more, SpaceX has designed a Dragon Capsule capable of putting seven humans into space, and has launched two of these capsules, orbited them, and brought them safely back to earth. But that’s not all. On launch number two, the Dragon Capsule carried a load of NASA cargo, docked with the International Space Station, uneventfully transferred its 1,200 pound load, took on 1,673 pounds of used hardware, supplies and more than a ton of scientific samples from the Station packed in a GLACIER (General Laboratory Active Cryogenic ISS Experiment Refrigerator) freezer, and brought that crucial payload to earth. SpaceX plans its third launch of the Dragon capsule with 1,268 pounds of crew supplies and scientific equipment for the International Space Station Friday, March 1st, the day the sequestration is scheduled to take effect.

Read more: Sequestration Shovels Money to the Russians | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network.

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