For decades, U.S. astronauts traveled to space and back aboard NASA space shuttles. But in 2011, NASA retired its shuttles, and U.S. astronauts were left without a ride of their own.
NASA astronauts still travel to the International Space Station (ISS), a floating space lab in the sky. But to get there, they have to hitch a ride aboard a Russian craft called a Soyuz. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars sending our astronauts to space this way. The price per ride is more than $60 million for one astronaut.
NASA wants to be able to fly people to space from U.S. soil once again. In order to make that possible, the agency wants to pay U.S. companies to build spaceships that it can use. The plan is known as the Commercial Crew Program.
The government is asking Congress to set aside $821 million for the program this year. The money would be used to help a few different companies develop new spacecraft that NASA hopes to use for rides to the space station by 2017.
But some lawmakers do not think it would be money well spent. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby thinks that more funding should instead go to the development of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS is a powerful rocket that NASA is designing to one day send astronauts on much longer trips—even to Mars.
According to Shelby, giving companies money to build spaceships for travel to the space station “diverts critical resources from NASA’s goal of developing human space flight capabilities with the SLS.”
What do you think? Should NASA pay companies to fly astronauts to the International Space Station? Or should NASA use its funds to develop its own spacecraft, such as the SLS?
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