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NASA Looking to Buy Two More Soyuz Seats, Even Though They Always Say It’s Too Late to Do That

Chris Bergin, for NASASpaceflight:

“NASA is considering contracting with the State Space Corporation “Roscosmos” for these services on a sole source basis for two (2) Soyuz seats and associated services to the International Space Station (ISS) on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft vehicle. This transportation would be for one crewmember in the Fall of 2019 and one crewmember in the Spring of 2020.”

The two seats in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 seem to be in reference to the Soyuz MS-15 and MS-16 flights.  Soyuz MS-15 currently has its third seat occupied by a paying spaceflight participant – who will now likely be bumped to accommodate a permanent US Station crewmember – and Soyuz MS-16 is a schedule two-person flight with a vacant third seat available.

This is obviously a bad look for NASA, Boeing, SpaceX, and Congress, but it’s smart to have Soyuz overlap with the early Commercial Crew flights, just in case.

However, let’s not forget the constant fearmongering from Bill Gerstenmaier and other NASA officials about how it’s too late to buy more Soyuz seats. It comes up every time they are in front of Congress (like January 2018 in the House), or are in similarly-high-stakes situations (like August 2018 right before crew assignments).

They say it takes 3 years to build a Soyuz so it’s too late to get on the list. Marcia Smith has a great note on this from that August incident:

An obvious answer to the question of how to ensure uninterrupted U.S. crew access to ISS is to buy more Soyuz seats from Russia. NASA officials insist, however, that it is too late to negotiate a new contract because it takes three years to build a Soyuz.

However, Russia will still be building Soyuz spacecraft for its own ISS crew members. Each Soyuz can accommodate three people. A Russian commander occupies one seat and another Russian cosmonaut is usually in the second, leaving the third seat open. Sometimes Russia uses the third seat for another of its own cosmonauts, but before NASA began purchasing the seats Russia also used them for tourists who reportedly paid about $25 million to spend a week on ISS. Russia is already making a seat available to others now that the contract with NASA is expiring. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will fly its first astronaut to ISS on a Soyuz in April 2019.

It’s an out-and-out, bold-faced, horseshit lie. No one should ever be fooled by these politically-minded statements ever again, and no one should report on Soyuz seat purchases without mentioning that.