Russian space officials are hailing the end of the space shuttle era as the beginning of the “Soyuz epoch.” For at least the next few years, Russian Soyuz craft will serve as the only way to get back and forth from the International Space Station, and NASA will be paying up to $63 million a seat for the ride.
Russian cosmonauts will also make up half of the space station’s crews from here on out, even though NASA has paid most of the estimated $100 billion cost of construction.
The Soyuz epoch was heralded on Thursday by the Russian Federal Space Agency in a news release that also paid tribute to the shuttle era. The Russian-language report says that the shuttle fleet’s retirement marks a “new stage in the International Space Station program, in which the Russian Soyuz spaceships have no backups.”
The Russian space agency said it would be 2016 at the earliest before any other crew-capable spaceships are available for trips to the International Space Station. That’s roughly what NASA is saying as well: Its current timetable calls for commercial space taxis such as the SpaceX Dragon, the Boeing CST-100, the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser or Blue Origin’s orbital space vehicle to be ready for use sometime in the middle of the decade…