NASA’s space shuttle fleet was retired back in 2011 and since then the agency has not launched any U.S. astronauts in space on its own. It has entered in to an agreement with Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, to let U.S. astronauts ride on their Soyuz spacecraft for missions to the International Space Station and back. NASA initiated the Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership, three years ago to make sure that American companies would be launching their astronauts in to space from U.S. soil by 2015. However due to budget cuts this plan now faces a two year delay, forcing NASA to extend its agreement with Roscosmos till 2016 at a cost of $424 million.
NASA and Roscosmos originally signed an agreement for space transportation back in 2009, so this extension doesn’t come as a shock. Though it is a setback for SpaceX and its competitors who hope to rocket astronauts to the ISS from U.S. soil, and that too at a relatively lower cost than what the Russians are charging NASA. If more Commercial Crew Program budget cuts hit NASA in fiscal year 2014, it might once again force the agency to extend their agreement for transportation aboard the Soyuz. To keep its plan on schedule, NASA needs the full $821 million in funding.