NASA is reportedly in talks with the Texas-based aerospace firm Axiom Space which arranges private astronaut rides to space to secure a seat on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that will transport astronauts to the International Space Station.
NASA is negotiating with Axiom Space to keep the Soyuz seat as a backup in the event of a problem with the upcoming ride with SpaceX, The Verge reported on Thursday.
The US space agency earlier this week said that it is considering providing in-kind services for this supplemental crew transportation service, rather than an exchange of funds.
NASA has been working with Boeing and SpaceX to provide safe and reliable crew transportation to and from the space station.
The recent success of NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission and the launch and docking of the Crew-1 mission have been significant milestones in providing reliable transportation to the space station on commercial spacecraft from American soil.
However, securing an additional Soyuz seat assures the back-up capability of at least one U.S. crew member aboard the International Space Station in the event of a problem with an upcoming ride, NASA said.
It has been NASA's practice to fly mixed crews on spacecraft to ensure safe and continuous operations of the International Space Station.
Due to operational constraints, crew members must fly to the station and return on the same spacecraft.
The crew currently aboard the station (Kate Rubins and the Crew-1 astronauts) must return on Soyuz and Crew Dragon respectively in April/May.
NASA said the SpaceX Crew-2 is expected to launch as planned on April 20.
However, if the mission launch is delayed or an event occurs while Crew-2 is in-orbit that requires a premature return, NASA risks not having a US crew member aboard the International Space Station.
"At NASA, we have a phrase we use often - dissimilar redundancy. That's NASA speak for saying we always have a back-up plan that ensures we have a path forward even if we encounter an issue with our initial approach," Robyn Gatens, Acting Director for the International Space Station at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement.
"We look forward to the next crew rotation on NASA's SpaceX Crew-2 mission, and we're looking to ensure we can continue to maximise our use of the station and minimize any risk by flying a US astronaut on the upcoming spring Soyuz by providing in-kind services."
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