The U.S. would have to extend a contract with Russia and pay "significantly more" to send crews into space if Congress doesn't approve the National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget request for next fiscal year, agency Administrator Charles Bolden said.
NASA needs full funding to develop a domestic industry to transport U.S. crews to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit beginning in 2017, Bolden said in an interview on Bloomberg Television's "Capitol Gains."
Anything short of that would probably force the agency to renegotiate a contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency, known as Roscosmos, he said. NASA pays about $70 million for U.S. astronauts to have a seat on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Having to renegotiate the contract "will allow the Russians to begin to believe that we are not committed to reliance on American industry and we're not committed to an American capability to get our own astronauts into space," Bolden said. "They'll name their price, and my guess is it will be significantly more than $70 million." The U.S. retired its shuttle fleet in 2011 and had to rely on countries including Russia to ferry astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station. The Obama administration wants the private sector to take over those jobs so NASA can focus on missions to asteroids and Mars.
President Barack Obama requested about $17.7 billion for NASA for fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct. 1. The agency's budget for this fiscal year totals $17.5.
NASA announced April 30 it signed a $424 million contract modification with Roscosmos for crew transportation services to the International Space Station in 2016, with return and rescue services extending through June 2017.
NASA is relying on U.S. commercial spacecraft developers to help it end dependence on Russia. Bolden said "the big race" is between Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, to transport crews.
"There is no international space race," he said. "American companies are racing each other." Chicago-based Boeing, Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX and Sparks, Nevada-based Sierra Nevada are "all racing to see who gets to the finish line and who wins a contract to carry American astronauts and our partner astronauts to the International Space Station, hopefully by 2017," Bolden said.
SpaceX a year ago became the first company to dock a commercial craft at the station.