6.16.13 … US Space Program: $70 million per seat …

China’s Space program, US space program, TIME.com:

And despite the more than 40-year lead both the U.S. and Russia have over China in sending humans to space, it’s not a stretch to think they could be kicking up lunar dust before we do. Russia’s human spaceflight program, which looked to be pulling ahead of ours in the late 1980s, largely collapsed along with the Soviet Union itself (although its low-tech, sturdy Soyuz capsules are still holding up).

The U.S. program, meanwhile, petered out due simply to lack of commitment and lack of vision. America still thinks big, as evidenced by a recently unveiled proposal to tow an asteroid into orbit near the moon for future mining missions, which sounds harebrained and may well be, but at least shows imagination.

But while we’re thinking and talking big, other nations are thinking less, talking less — and quietly moving ahead.

The unmanned half of America’s space program, in short, is doing amazing things. But as China’s launch of a three-person spacecraft into earth orbit aboard a Long March 2-F rocket just made clear, our manned space program is not just limping along, it’s trailing behind even a comparative space race newbie. True, NASA astronauts have been doing important work aboard the International Space Station (ISS) — but they haven’t been able to use NASA hardware to get to and from the station since 2011, when the Atlantis made the final space-shuttle flight in history.

Instead, U.S. spacefarers have to hitch rides aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule. In fact, NASA just inked a deal with the Russians to pay $424 million for six seats on Soyuz craft through 2016 — or a tidy $70 million per seat. They may also work out a deal with the private SpaceX corporation, which successfully delivered supplies to the ISS last year with an unmanned spacecraft. Space entrepreneur Elon Musk hopes to begin transporting astronauts to the station as early as next year — and undercut the Russians while doing so.

via China’s Latest Launch: Beijing, We Have a Space program | TIME.com.

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