Russia hikes rocket ride price for US astronauts to $ 62.7million

With its space shuttles in the process of being retired, NASA has relied exclusively on Russia for space station crew transport since late 2009 at a cost until now of USD 51 million per person.

NASA plans two final shuttle flights, in April and June, to outfit the station, which orbits about 354 km above Earth.

The shuttles are being retired due to high operating costs and to free up funds for NASA to develop new spaceships that can travel to the moon, asteroids and other destinations beyond the station's orbit.

The Obama administration hopes commercial US companies will develop the capability to fly people to the International Space Station -- which is a USD 100 billion project of 16 nations -- so NASA can purchase flight services domestically.

The new deal signed yesterday will allow NASA to fly a dozen astronauts from the US or its partner agencies on Russia's venerable Soyuz spacecraft between 2014 and 2015 at a cost of about USD 62.7 million per seat.

NASA spokesman Josh Bluck said and "the increase covers just the general inflation rate in Russia for the cost of processing and preparation."

Russia's Federal Space Agency has been ferrying cosmonauts and astronauts on round trips to the space station for more than a decade.

The USD 100 billion space station has been under construction by five space agencies, representing 15 countries since 1998 and is nearly complete.

The first crew of the space station -- called Expedition 1 -- arrived in November 2001.
Three members of the station's latest crew, called Expedition 26, will be returning to Earth tomorrow.

The new deal comes during a major transition year for NASA, which is retiring its space shuttle fleet after 30 years of spaceflight.

The shuttle Discovery flew its last flight this month. The other two shuttles in service – Endeavour and Atlantis – are expected to launch their final missions in April and June, respectively.

Once the shuttles are retired, NASA plans to rely on commercially-built spacecraft developed by private companies to ferry astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station.

The first flights for those are anticipated around 2015, up to four years after the last shuttle mission flies.

"We are still anticipating having the availability of domestic commercial crew transportation by the middle of the decade," Bluck said.

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