Eric Berger for Ars Technica:
This report was conducted to warn Congress that NASA has no contingency plan for how to keep its astronauts on board the International Space Station after November 2019, when the last Russian Soyuz seat NASA has procured is scheduled to fly home.
“While NASA is working on potential solutions, there is no contingency plan in place to address this potential gap,” the report states. “Without a viable contingency plan, NASA puts at risk achievement of the US goal and objective for the ISS.”
With this report in hand, Congress will probably press NASA to finalize and release such a plan. Previously, NASA has indicated it may turn the first Boeing crewed flight, which would precede the “certification milestone,” into an operational flight and extend its mission to the station. It may also seek to delay the return of that final Soyuz mission from November 2019 for two months into January 2020. Depending on the extent of schedule delays, however, neither of those measures may prove adequate.
Quite frankly, this whole contingency plan thing seems really overblown.
Russia is going to keep their ISS crew count at 2 for the foreseeable future—and maybe for the rest of the ISS lifetime—because Nauka is probably never going to be launched. The entire Russian space industry is crumbling, from engine sales to launches, so they’d be thrilled to continue selling us the unused Soyuz seat for the next few years for $80+ million (instead of a fraction of that for a tourist).
And as far as that whole, “But the lead time is too big!” thing: the UAE started a human spaceflight program at the beginning of this year, still hasn’t selected an astronaut, and they already have a Soyuz flight booked for next April.