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NASA strikes deal for Soyuz flights

By Brian Berger
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NASA and Russia concluded a deal that includes Soyuz flights to and from the international space station starting this spring.

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(SPACE.com) -- NASA will pay the Russian Federal Space Agency $21.8 million per passenger for Soyuz rides to and from the international space station (ISS) starting this spring.

NASA spokeswoman Melissa Mathews said January 5 that the U.S. space agency and its Russian counterpart concluded a $43.8 million deal just before New Year's Day that includes Soyuz transportation to and from the space station for NASA's newly named Expedition 13 crew member, Jeff Williams, and a ride home for astronaut Bill McArthur, who has been living onboard the station since October.

Under the deal, Russia also will provide what Mathews described as "a small amount" of cargo space aboard a Progress resupply ship slated to launch to the station later this year and initial Soyuz training for NASA's Expedition 14 crew member.

That astronaut will head to the station this autumn aboard a Soyuz if the space shuttle is not back in service by then.

The agreement also reserves a seat for Williams should he and his cosmonaut crewmate be forced to evacuate the station aboard a Soyuz craft in an emergency.

As part of its contribution to the space station program, Russia has set aside Soyuz seats for American astronauts at no charge to the United States since 2000. But that deal essentially expired last October when Russia launched the 11th and final Soyuz called for under an earlier bilateral agreement.

Mathews described the new agreement as a short term extension of an existing contract NASA signed with the Russian space agency before the Iran Nonproliferation Act became law in 2000. That act barred NASA from paying Russia for any space station-related goods and services as long as Russia continues to help Iran acquire missiles and other advanced weaponry.

The law was amended by the U.S. Congress at the request of the White House in late 2005, clearing the way for NASA buy Soyuz and Progress services from Russia until 2011, when the temporary relief would expire.

While NASA has only contracted for six months of services at this point, Mathews said Russia has agreed to honor the $21.8 million per seat price through 2011.



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