While congress and the Obama administration talk tough about Russia and impose a wide range of sanctions on leader Vladimir Putin and his inner cadre, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden this week called out American politicians for talking tough yet refusing to put their money where their mouth is.
Bolden told congress this week NASA is tired of relying on the Russians to carry American astronauts into space, a need which has arisen because Congress continues to defund NASA programs to put Americans into orbit.
The result is also hundreds of millions of American dollars going directly to Russia.
The United States currently must pay for spots on Russia's Soyuz rockets, which are the only method for ferrying people to the International Space Station (ISS). The White House decided to retire the Space Shuttle early in 2004 after the Columbia disaster, leaving Americans unable to access space since the final shuttle mission in 2011.
While NASA, which has suffered under heavy budget cuts for years, plans to replace the Space Shuttle with the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft, the project is severely behind schedule due to continually decreasing funding. The project isn't expected to fly until 2020 and will more than likely be delayed beyond 2025, meaning America will be without manned space access for nearly 15 years.
Bolden, showing increasing desperation in wanting to deliver a world class program yet having insufficient funding to do so, published an op-ed Friday in Wired titled "Congress, Don't Make Us Hitch Rides With Russia. Love, NASA." In the letter Bolden made the case to Congress for funding the Commercial Crew program, a partnership between NASA and private companies to put astronauts into low earth orbit from American soil.
"Just recently, NASA was left with no other choice but to write a $490 million check to our Russian counterparts so that we can get our own astronauts to the Space Station," Bolden stated. "It doesn't have to be this way."
Bolden's job has turned from head scientist and program administrator to beggar-in-chief.
Earlier this month Congress set U.S. launches back two years because of inadequate funding, and with it forced NASA to beg for money to buy more rides on Russian rockets.
Both programs require money yet congress is increasingly unwilling to fund anything space related, unless its part of the military.
That decision comes at a time when Russia, China and India are investing heavily in their publicly funded space programs and putting the American space program to shame.
"It's as if we keep ordering expensive takeout because we haven't yet set up our own kitchen — only, in this case, the takeout meals are costing us hundreds of millions of dollars," Bolden wrote.
He added that "Space travel is complex, but this choice is simple: Do we invest in ourselves — in our businesses, our ingenuity, our people — or do we choose instead to send our tax-dollars to Russia?"