Garver Puts Price on Cutting Crew Program

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NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said that if the United States does not fully fund the agency’s effort to develop commercial vehicles to ferry crews to the international space station, it could be stuck beyond 2016 paying Russia $450 million a year for Soyuz flights.

Speaking Oct. 20 at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, N.M., Garver said that if NASA receives the $850 million it is seeking for the Commercial Crew Program for the year ahead, “by 2016, certainly we will be able to end outsourcing of this capability from the Russians. If we don’t get full funding in 2012, this is at risk.

“One additional year from the Russians will cost us $450 million,” she added.

Garver’s comments echoed a formal Statement of Administration Policy the White House Office of Management and Budget issued Oct. 17 in response to H.R. 2112, a spending package recently taken up by the Senate to fund a host of federal agencies including NASA.

“The Administration encourages the Senate to provide sufficient funding for the Commercial Crew Program to avoid delaying the development of U.S. crew transportation capabilities and lengthening the period during which the United States will need to pay Russia to transport crew to the International Space Station,” the White House statement says.

H.R. 2112, a so-called minibus combining three bills already approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, includes $500 million for the Commercial Crew Program. House appropriators were less supportive of Commercial Crew, approving just $312 million for the program when they adopted a stand alone commerce, justice, science spending bill in July.

Commercial Crew funding is just one of many differences the House and Senate will have to iron out before a 2012 NASA appropriation can be signed into law. Although the U.S. government’s new budget year began Oct. 1, NASA and all other federal agencies remain funded at last year’s levels under a stopgap spending measure that runs through Nov. 18