United States Astronaut Sees Science Breakthrough in Space


A U.S. astronaut departing this week for the International Space Station said Monday that the bulk of the scientific benefits from the orbiting laboratory will be seen over the coming decade, amid questions on whether the estimated $100 billion spent in last 12 years is worth the effort.

Of the three men departing Tuesday, only Ford has spent any time in orbit. He spent two weeks in space as pilot of the space shuttle Discovery in 2009 on a mission to transport scientific equipment to the ISS.

The U.S. space program has been in a vulnerable position since the decommissioning of the U.S. Shuttle fleet in 2011, which left Russia's Soviet-designed Soyuz craft as the only means for international astronauts to reach the space station.

Earlier this month, California-based SpaceX successfully delivered a half-ton of supplies craft called Dragon to the ISS, the first official shipment under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA. The contract calls for 12 such shipments.

Gerstenmaier said commercial transportation would enable the United States to fly its own astronauts to and from the International Space Station, "end our sole reliance on foreign governments" and allow for the expansion of the full-time crew to seven from six.

The incoming Dragon held 1,000 pounds of groceries, clothes, science experiments and other gear. It is to depart with almost twice that much cargo at the end of the month. Dragon is the only cargo ship capable of bringing back research and other items, filling a void left by NASA's retired shuttles.



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