NASA needs support plan as US crew launches falls: GAO Report

NASA has been paying Russia up to $82 million a seat to ferry US astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
NASA has been paying Russia up to $82 million a seat to ferry US astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

New Delhi : The US government has announced that NASA might need a backup plan for taking astronauts to space, given additional delays on the horizon for new commercial crew capsules.

SpaceX and Boeing crew capsules are under development. Both companies have been preparing for test flights by the end of 2018. But the US Government Accountability Office warned in its 47-page report that despite progress, further delays are possible. If rescheduling keeps on increasing, the GAO doubts there could be a gap in access the International Space Station.

The last shuttle flight was launch seven years ago and since then, NASA has been paying Russia up to $82 million a seat to ferry US astronauts to and from the International Space Station. But the contract will end next year.

“NASA is considering potential options, but it does not have a contingency plan for ensuring uninterrupted US access,” the report by the Congressional watchdog agency mentioned.

The audit found that NASA lacks a steady approach in measuring crew risk in these new spacecraft.

“NASA must balance safety with acceptable risk for human spaceflight,” the report stated.

The agency’s human explorations chief, William Gerstenmaier, said that NASA is actively working on options to keep Americans living and working, uninterrupted, at the station. He also noted that while the different documentation for measuring crew risk can be puzzling, it is up to NASA’s commercial crew program to guarantee proper safety rules.

Since 2014, SpaceX and Boeing have been striving to be the first to return Americans to space from US soil, three years after NASA’s shuttle program ended. That’s when NASA awarded contracts of nearly $7 billion to SpaceX and Boeing to expand crew capsules and exhibit them in flight. The agreement called for the spaceship to be certified by 2017.

The SpaceX capsule is a stronger, human-rated version of the Dragon capsule already used to deliver cargo while the name of Boeing’s craft is Starliner.

Both SpaceX and Boeing plan test flight without passengers, before placing seats for astronauts on board.